OP-ED
From the Office of State Senator Royce West - District 23

January 28, 2011
For Immediate Release
CONTACT:  Kelvin Bass, 214-467-0123 / 512-463-0123

The ink is all but dry on Texas Voter ID law

A routine by comic Bill Cosby weaves the tale of a daily walk to school in telling kids how hard he had it growing up. It was five miles each way, Cosby said, "uphill, both ways." Such is the task facing Texas Democrats' attempt to block potentially harmful revisions to Texas' election laws that are so important to Republicans, that Gov. Rick Perry declared it an "emergency" item, putting it on a fast-track through legislative timelines.

Former President Bill Clinton once said that elections have consequences and Democrats will soon pay the price for staying home for the midterm elections. Passing what will be the country's toughest voter ID law was made easier when more than 20 Democrats were ousted on the way to Republicans gaining a 101-member super-majority in the Texas House. This means Republicans can convene and pass legislation without a single Democrat's 'yea' vote.

Others will also feel the repercussions. Republicans are pushing through a bill for which testimony provided no projections on actual implementation costs. Analysts say this unfunded mandate will pass along costs to county governments. And while we mull the reality of laying off thousands of teachers, our colleagues don't mind diverting resources to solve a problem that doesn't exist.

On the new session's second day, Senate Republicans passed a rule to bypass the longstanding tradition requiring 2/3 of members' approval for bills to come up for a vote. Less than a week later, Senate Bill 14 cleared committee in an evening-long hearing. The next evening, the bill passed the full senate on a party-line vote.

SB14 will require Texas voters to display a current government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. Republicans claim a new law is needed to prevent election day fraud by those who show up at polling sites bearing fake voter registration cards. No evidence exists that validates claims of massive voter fraud of this type. Democrats support laws that insure the integrity of the ballot. But SB14 does not address known improprieties surrounding mail-in ballots.

Evidence does exist that minorities, the elderly and disabled are more likely to be without a driver license or state-issued photo ID. And throughout debate, Senate Democrats foretold the hardships that SB14 could cause would-be voters.

In parts of Texas, citizens must drive more than 100 miles to a Department of Public Safety (DPS) location to obtain a state ID. There's no DPS office in 77 of Texas' 254 counties. Newly-married or recently-divorced women could have problems with names on voter registration cards that don't match those on state IDs. And missing accepted forms of identification can deny or delay the issuance of state-issued ID to applicants.

Eight states require voters to present photo identification. None are as restrictive as SB14 looks to be. Neither Indiana nor Georgia laws, both high-profile cases, repel voters like SB14 will. Georgia allows use of an expired state-issued driver license and any valid photo ID issued by the federal government, state agency, county or municipality. Indiana permits use of a photo ID issued by any state or federal agency or a photo ID issued by a state university. Michigan law says voters without a state photo ID can use a current out-of-state license or ID, or a college or high school picture ID.

Democrats may have to depend on the U.S. Justice Department to reject a photo ID law they view as unfair. Any changes to voting laws must pass federal pre-clearance due to Texas' history of voter suppression. Call some Texans un-American and you may have a fight on your hands. But on the night of the State of the Union Address when the president sought to rally the nation around a theme of unity, Texas' leadership treaded down a path that would only further divide.

For more information, please contact Kelvin Bass at 512-463-0123.

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