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Virginia Senate approves voter ID bill over objections

By Matthew A. Ward

PORTSMOUTH, Virginia (Reuters) - The Virginia state Senate approved a measure on Monday that would require a valid identification for a voter to cast a ballot in elections, the latest controversial proposal Republicans have pushed in Virginia since gaining seats in the 2011 election.

Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling cast a tie-breaking vote in the state Senate to pass the measure 21 to 20.

Since Republicans gained seats in the Virginia legislature last November they have championed a host of conservative measures. They include the voter ID law, a proposal to allow citizens to use deadly force against any home intruder, and a measure requiring an ultrasound before a woman can have an abortion.

The ultrasound law put Virginia's popular governor Bob McDonnell in a tough situation because the proposal would have required a vaginal examination of women considering abortion. There was such an outcry to what supporters of abortion rights considered an intrusive procedure, that McDonnell last week relented and the abortion proposal was softened.

McDonnell is among Republican leaders often mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate of the presidential nominee this year.

President Barack Obama narrowly won Virginia in the 2008 election and it is considered a battleground state again in 2012 even though Republicans control both houses of the legislature and the governor's office.

The voter ID law now will go back to the House of Delegates to review amendments made to the measure since they voted to pass it earlier this month, including expanding what is considered valid ID.

Under current state law, voters without proper ID may still vote using an official ballot after signing a sworn statement that they are who they claim to be. Giving a false statement is a felony offense.

The new measure would count the vote only after the voter returned in person with valid identification.

A spokesman for McDonnell said last week that the governor was undecided whether to sign the voter ID law.

"The governor will review this bill when it reaches his desk," spokesman Jeff Caldwell told Reuters in an email.

Voter ID laws in a number of states with Republican governors and legislative majorities have drawn objections from Democrats, who say the measures suppress the vote of low-income, minority and elderly voters.

Calling it "another day of shame for Virginia," Democratic Senator Yvonne B. Miller argued on the Senate floor that the measure intends not only to suppress the minority vote, but to reduce the number of minority state lawmakers in Virginia.

"I'm a member of the second wave of African American elected officials to the Virginia Senate and the Virginia House (of Delegates)," she said. "The first wave had almost 100 people - this wave has barely 20 . and now we have started (again) on the same road we started to get rid of the first wave."

But Republican Senator Richard H. Black said that if ID is required to purchase alcohol and for other common tasks in today's society, why not for voting as well. "If we can require ID to buy a six-pack of beer we can certainly do it for voting," he said.

The Obama administration in December blocked South Carolina's new law requiring voters to have photo identification, citing concerns it would hurt minorities' ability to cast a ballot.

(Reporting By Matthew A. Ward; Editing by Greg McCune)

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