Tom Parkins retired on Jan. 1 as general registrar for the City of Alexandria, Va., having served since 2000. He previously spent three years as a senior election consultant with the International Foundation for Election Systems, working in the Balkans, including post-war Bosnia and the former Soviet Union. Parkins started his work in election administration in Des Moines, Iowa, where he was elected county auditor and commissioner of elections, serving from 1987 through 1996. Parkins is a graduate of Drake University and a Vietnam War veteran.

During the past few years and in step with national trends, the Virginia General Assembly has enacted progressively more stringent voter identification requirements. In 2013, it passed an ID requirement, which will become effective on July 1, 2014.

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Voter ID laws, such as the new law in Virginia, highlight several core assumptions about the electoral system. By and large, Republicans believe presenting a voter ID is an election-integrity issue, often citing the potential for voter fraud as a reason for these laws. Democrats generally believe ID requirements will reduce access to the ballot box, also citing concerns about the number of voters who will be disenfranchised. Despite these competing claims from both sides of the aisle, voter ID requirements have passed in nearly 35 states and the number is growing (“Voter Identification Requirement”).

The reality for election officials is that ID laws must be administered in such a way that the laws will ensure integrity and minimize or eliminate the impact on access to the ballot box. Beyond making certain that the law functions fairly at polling places, the ultimate challenge will be making certain that every eligible citizen gets the ID they need prior to Election Day.

In Virginia, the new law provides funding for photographic equipment to be used by local officials in providing free photo IDs to voters who do not have other acceptable forms of identification, such as passports or IDs issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles. While this is an important first step, it accomplishes little by itself.

To ensure that each eligible voter has a photo ID, it will be incumbent on local registrars to plan and conduct an aggressive outreach program. Election officials in Alexandria, Va. have envisioned such a program, and planning is well under way.

In 2014, voter registration officials will begin their outreach efforts by contacting groups representing voters who are traditionally adversely impacted by voter ID laws. These include:

  • Elderly voters, reached through human services agencies, retirement and care facilities, and city-sponsored commissions
  • Voters who are disabled, reached through advocate groups and city-sponsored commissions
  • Minority voters, reached through advocate groups
  • Students, reached through high schools, universities, and colleges
  • The poor, reached through human services agencies and advocate groups

Agencies and advocates will be asked their thoughts on possible strategies, and to actively participate in educating populations who are less likely to have acceptable IDs. Organizations will also be asked to identify and contact these citizens.

Based on the experiences of other states and discussions with election officials in jurisdictions with similar demographics, Alexandria election officials have determined that elderly voters at retirement homes and care centers will likely be the largest group in need of photo IDs. Many residents at those facilities have given up their driver’s licenses or have expired passports. Election officials will work with activity directors at these facilities to bring in photographic equipment and produce a photo ID for each resident who needs one.

At libraries and other community centers, election officials will provide additional opportunities for voters to obtain photo IDs—and all of the efforts will be done in partnership with community groups and voting advocates. In short, Alexandria election officials are committed to providing a photo ID to every eligible voter who is in need.

Work Cited

  • “Voter Identification Requirement.” National Conference of State Legislatures, 17 Oct. 2013. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.

  1. See Code of VA 24.2-643 (Virginia Election Laws, 2013 Edition)