RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Democrats filed a federal lawsuit against the State Board of Elections on Thursday, joining similar efforts in two other swing states to challenge Republican-backed laws that they say will make it difficult for some to vote in the 2016 presidential election.
The Democratic Party of Virginia's suit seeks specifically to undo the state's law requiring voters to show photo IDs. In the suit, the party argues that rules restricting the types of identifications voters can present at the polls make it more difficult to vote — particularly for African-Americans, Latinos, the young and the poor — and reflect a long pattern of discrimination in Virginia dating back to slavery.
"The commonwealth voted strongly to support Democrats in recent national elections. After Republicans determined they couldn't change the minds of the electorate, they decided to change the makeup of the electorate instead by making it more difficult for Virginians to exercise their right to vote," Susan Swecker, Chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said in a statement.
In 2013, then-Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law a measure requiring Virginia voters to bring photo identification with them to the polls, legislation McDonnell and his fellow Republicans said was a safeguard against voter fraud. Democrats bitterly denounced the law as a Jim Crow-era tactic to suppress the votes of minorities and others.
National Democratic Party attorneys also recently filed legal challenges to voting changes made by GOP lawmakers in the presidential battleground states of Ohio and Wisconsin.
One of the attorneys involved in all of the lawsuits is Marc Elias, a top elections lawyer who is also serving as general counsel to Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign. The Clinton campaign is not officially involved in the lawsuits.
The New York Times recently reported that George Soros, a liberal billionaire investor, is largely funding these legal challenges. A DPV spokeswoman referred questions about who is paying for the Virginia lawsuit to Elias, who did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
Elias is also involved in two lawsuits filed in Virginia alleging that state Republicans improperly packed black voters into state and federal House districts in order to make other districts safer for Republican incumbents. Democrats have filed similar lawsuits over redistricting issues in several other states.
GOP Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell blasted Thursday's lawsuit as "disingenuous" and said that a large majority of Virginians support the current photo ID laws.
"This is another politically motivated lawsuit funded by George Soros and out of state interest groups who are seeking to manipulate the court system in order to benefit the Democratic Party," Howell said in a statement.