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Some say bills are threat to minority voters

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Hundreds of lawmakers and citizens said currently proposed legislation could lead to voter suppression.

Lawmakers, voters and local dignitaries joined hundreds Tuesday morning at the Bell Tower in Capitol Square, hoping to raise awareness and shed light on what they call a real threat to Virginia voters.

The rally was hosted by the Legislative Black Caucus and noted civil rights leader Dr. Benjamin Chavis headlined the event.

Many in the crowd said this upcoming election is too important for voters to potentially miss out on having their ballots counted.

Some lawmakers said they’re concerned that some of the proposed bills would require voters to present a photo id, and those who don’t have it would be forced to cast a provisional ballot, which would later be counted.

“The fact of the matter is many provisional ballots are not counted. There is no need to take away what is already working. We have not found voter fraud in our current system, so this does not sit well with me,” Senator Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) said.

Dr. Benjamin Chavis said that African-Americans are disproportionately voter suppressed and that the minority community is targeted in some of the proposed bills. “It’s unfortunate that sometimes people don’t understand the value of a right until it’s threatened,” he said.

“Our solution is to increase voter turnout in spite of these bills” said Chavis.

Chavis impressed upon the crowd that Virginia is key to the national election in 2012.

“It used to be Florida, but now Virginia is front and center,” he said.

Borrowing from a John Kennedy quote about Maine, Chavis said, “Which way goes Virginia, so goes the presidential race and the rest of the nation.”

Flanked by the likes of Congressman Bobby Scott, Mayor Dwight Jones and several other lawmakers, Dr. Chavis encouraged the crowd to get involved in the political process. He urged them to get involved with voter registration drives and to educate themselves about the particulars of the proposed bills.

Bills, like HB 9, SB 1, HB 63 and Senator Steve Martin’s SB 1 are among those being criticized.

Martin told CBS 6 that he wants everyone to understand what his bill really does.

“This bill does nothing more than require voters to show id and if they don’t have it they can vote on a provisional ballot,” said Martin. “They would have six days to bring back, fax in, and even send electronically their identification.”

“It can be a utility bill, a social security card, whatever has their address on it. We just want to see something to show who you said you are,” he added.

Martin emphasized that his bill would not eliminate the voter registration card from the list of acceptable ids. “That was a drafting error that we fixed immediately. That was never intended to be in there” said Martin.

CBS 6 will continue to follow the outcome of these bills and bring you the latest.