09/12/12: A call for volunteers

This op-ed appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on the date shown.

IN AN EMAIL to state employees Monday, Gov. Bob Mc-Donnell encouraged them to volunteer to work the polls on Election Day. No, not as poll workers for a candidate but as support for our democratic process.

“Elections are administered by our hard-working general registrars and electoral boards in your own individual locality,” McDonnell wrote. “Many of them rely on volunteers such as you to work the polls as Officers of Election.”

He also asked for volunteers for the State Board of Elections call center in Richmond. The center handles questions and concerns from across the state.

Although no one expects voter turnout to be as high as it was in 2008, there is no doubt that Virginians vote in larger numbers in presidential election years.

The SBE has turnout statistics from 1976 to current. The high-water mark for presidential elections was in 1992, when 84.5 percent of registered voters exercised their right to vote. By comparison, the highest turnout for a gubernatorial contest was 66.5 percent in 1989.

It may not be the numbers of voters that are the problem this year, but rather concerns over the changes in required voter identification and provisional balloting. The law in Virginia, while not as onerous as other states, requires that an acceptable form of identification be presented in order to cast a vote and have it counted.

Topping the list of acceptable forms of ID is a Virginia Voter Registration Card. Every registered voter in Virginia will receive a new card.

The SBE announced Monday that the cards will start hitting mailboxes by the end of next week. With the changes due to redistricting, a careful review of the card upon receipt is important. If you don’t receive a card, check your registration status on the SBE’s website.

Other forms of acceptable ID are a valid Virginia driver’s license; military ID; any federal-, Virginia- or local government-issued ID; an employer-issued photo ID card; a concealed handgun permit; a valid student ID issued by any institution of higher education in the commonwealth; a current utility bill, bank statement, government check or paycheck indicating the name and address of the voter; or a Social Security card.

In addition, there are special ID rules for certain voters who are casting a ballot in a federal election for the first time.

You will still be allowed to vote without one of the acceptable forms of ID; however, the ballot you cast will be a provisional one. You will have until noon on the Friday following the election to provide a copy of your ID; otherwise, your ballot will not be counted.

The small staffs of the SBE and local registrars can’t handle this alone. As a proponent of civic engagement and participation, I wholeheartedly agree with McDonnell’s call for volunteers.

Virginia has escaped most of the voting-day fiascoes of other states because of the support offered by volunteers to the process.

Perhaps the governor can send a similar email to the folks who dodge jury duty.