CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Armed with their largest share of the House of Delegates in decades, West Virginia Republicans plan to resume their push to require voters to show photo identification at the polls, adding the state to a growing group that expect to debate the topic this year.
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead said the GOP proposal would mandate a photo ID while helping those who don't have such identification to obtain one. The bill is expected during the 2013 regular session of the Legislature, which begins Feb. 13.
"Requiring identification when voting is a simple step that we can take to make our elections fairer and to ensure that the outcome of our elections actually reflects the will of our citizens," said Armstead, a Kanawha County lawyer.
"People are required to show identification to cash a check, to enter many sporting and other events, and to open bank accounts."
West Virginians now must provide proof of their physical address when they register to vote at a state or county office. They must then sign a poll book, which contains a copy of their signature, before they cast their ballot. Voters who register by mail must show identification the first time they show up to vote.
"I feel as though we have strong voter ID laws and requirements," said Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, West Virginia's elections chief.
Both Armstead and Tennant, a Democrat, cited the latest round of election fraud that has long plagued the state and in particular its southern counties.
Three now-former Lincoln County officials -- a commissioner, sheriff and clerk -- all pleaded guilty last year to federal charges arising from an attempt to sway the 2010 Democratic primary with fraudulent absentee ballots. Tennant's office helped investigate the conspiracy. Earlier episodes of fraud involved schemes to buy primary votes in Democratic-dominated Lincoln and Logan counties.
"A stronger voter ID law would not have stopped what took place there," Tennant said of the absentee ballot plot. "We don't have a problem with voter impersonation. We may have a problem with people trying to manipulate the system in other ways, but let's not focus on finding a solution to a problem that doesn't exist."