By Helen Patterson
Texas has recently introduced a new voter ID law which supporters claim is focused solely on ending voter fraud. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has dismissed any difficulties which the law presents, saying “Almost every single person either has a valid photo ID … or it is very easy to get one.” However, this is not the case.
The new law in Texas requires that anyone casting a ballot present a valid photo ID. Acceptable forms of ID include: a Texas driver’s license, personal ID card or concealed handgun permit, or a U.S. military ID card, citizen certificate or passport. There was opposition from the Justice Department, which struck down the law, arguing that it violates the Voting Rights Act (VRA) because of potential discrimination.
However, the Supreme Court declared section four of the VRA unconstitutional in a 5–4 decision in June, so the law will go into effect in time for the Nov. 5 election.
On the face of it, voter ID laws may not seem like a bad idea. Everyone in a democracy should desire to eliminate voter fraud while still encouraging eligible voters. However, there are concerns that the new law will affect minority groups disproprtionately, making it more difficult for them to vote.
The NAACP and The Mexican American Legislative Caucus argue that the law discriminates against minorities who compose the majority of citizens without a valid form of identification.
Texas has theoretically addressed the issue by offering Texas Election Identification Certificates to citizens who do not have one of the required forms of ID but can prove their citizenship. The process of gaining these certificates can be expensive and time consuming.
At the least, it requires purchasing a valid form of ID (the cheapest is a birth certificate at $22 plus mailing fee), and traveling to an office of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Many lower income and minority citizens are less likely to have cars, and the nearest DMV office might be 250 miles away.
The difficulty of obtaining these certificates can be statistically verified: of the 600,000 to 1.4 million Texas citizens without a valid form of identification, the Dallas Morning News reports that only 41 have been issued certificates by the Texan government.
The Texas ID law will also disproportionately impact women. Female voters make up slightly more than half of any potential constituency. However, as many as 34 percent of eligible female voters in Texas have changed their names following a marriage or divorce, and currently have no acceptable documentation that matches their voter registration cards.
The new ID law will make it difficult or impossible for them to cast their ballots this election cycle. The case of 117th District Court Judge Sandra Watts helps to highlight the issue. When she tried to cast her early ballot on Oct. 21, she found herself facing the new law. “What I have used for voter registration and for identification for the last 52 years was not sufficient yesterday when I went to vote,” she said to Corpus Christi’s local KIII-TV.
The ID law could also affect transgendered men and women. It is estimated that 27 percent may not have IDs that reflect their current genders when they go to polls, which might keep them from voting.
Officials have been stressing that the laws are not inflexible. “Poll workers are encouraged to look at the entirety of the ID,” says Alicia Pierce, a spokesperson for the Texas Secretary of State’s Office. “In most cases, if the names are similar but not identical, a voter can sign an affidavit certifying they are the same person.”
This requires bringing several different forms of identification and then relying on the whim of a poll worker. If the ID is deemed unsuitable, voters must fill out a provisional ballot which will only be counted if they can provide appropriate ID within six days to the county voter registrar. However, the money, time and effort to provide such documentation may make it prohibitive, if not impossible, for many to vote in this election cycle.
There is doubt regarding whether the ID law is even necessary. Voter fraud should be decried by any democratic citizen, but it is not common.
The attorney general’s records of voter fraud in Texas indicate eighteen instances of confirmed voter fraud between 2002 and 2012. It does not make sense to potentially disenfranchise female, minority and transgender voters based on fewer than two confirmed cases of fraud a year. Perhaps “Texas Monthly” senior editor Paul Burka was correct when he said, “I am compelled to point out that voter (ID laws are) a solution in search of a problem.”