Upcoming primary elections offer 1st major test of voter ID laws after years of court battles

The Associated Press

In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 photo, an election official checks a voter's photo identification at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas. In elections that begin next week, voters in 10 states will be required to present photo identification before casting ballots _ the first major test of voter ID laws after years of legal challenges arguing that the measures are designed to suppress voting. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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"I foresee a great number, an unacceptable number of absentee voters to be disenfranchised because of this whole deal, and I don't like it," McDaniel said.

Virginia could be particularly confusing. Majority Republicans enacted a law requiring proof of identification, but no photo, in 2012. Last year, they amended the law to require photo ID to vote but set the effective date for the new law as July 1.

Virginia's primary is June 10, when voters will not be required to present a photo. But in November, they will.

"What I'm worried about is you've got a good number of communities of elderly, and foreign-born citizens who speak different languages," Schoenman said. "And we'll only have four months to get ready."

The state has about 330,000 more registered voters than licensed drivers, which is why minority Democrats last week unsuccessfully sought $250,000 to pay for the photo ID cards voters must have by November.

Democrats will be seeking to safeguard every potential vote. Last year's attorney general race was decided by 11 votes. This fall, the Senate seat held by Democrat Mark Warner is on the ballot, and the GOP needs to gain only six seats to claim the majority.

In Texas, as many as 600,000 voters could be prevented from having their ballots counted because of the state's newly enacted photo ID law, according to officials with Battleground Texas, a Democratic-leaning group aimed at helping register new voters.

One third of Texas' 254 counties do not have Department of Public Safety stations that can provide the cards. That means voters without proper identification have to drive more than 200 miles to get a card, provided they have the proper documentation, such as a birth certificate.

Still, state GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri said few problems popped up with the law during last year's election, a low-turnout affair that included constitutional changes but only drew about 10 percent of the electorate.

"The law has already been tested and performed quite well. I see no reason for concern," Munisteri said.

The 10 percent were devout voters, well aware of the new requirements, said Dana DeBeauvoir, election commissioner in Travis County, which includes Austin.

"This was not a population that needs extra support," she said. "Where we're going to see the problem is in November."

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University is suing Texas and states with similar laws, but it's not clear whether the lawsuits will be decided by November.

"We have shown already that these laws correlate with places that had demographic changes that currently favor Democrats," said Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Institute's Democracy program. "When you look at these things together, what's going on is discrimination."

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Associated Press Writer Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.

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