This Week at the Lege: Photo Voter ID

By Sara Haji
ACLU of Texas Public Education Associate

The right of every citizen to vote is something we take pretty seriously over here at the ACLU of Texas, but today’s deliberations over photo voter ID threatens to undermine that right. On Jan. 20, Gov. Perry added photo voter ID to the list of emergency items for the 82nd legislative session. A divisive and enduring idea, the proposal to require government-issued photo identification of all Texans at the ballot box effectively ended the 2009 legislative session, with Democrats stalling it for the last five days of session. Unfortunately, the fast-tracking of photo voter ID legislation prevents legislators from grappling with the real crisis: the $27 billion state budget. Today, the House and Senate will convene as a Committee of the Whole to consider S.B. 14 (PDF file), which in many ways is even more stringent than its predecessor from 2009 (S.B. 14, for instance, does not give voters the option of replacing one piece of photo ID with two pieces of non-photo ID). Though the bill looks poised to pass, the ACLU of Texas hopes that legislators will consider measures—such as allowing same-day voter registration during early voting—to reduce the disproportionately negative impact of the bill on certain groups of Texas voters.

Currently, Texans present voter registration cards to poll workers on Election Day. There’s concern that this system enables voting fraud, but no instances have been documented and deterrents to in-person voter-fraud already exist. In Texas, a comprehensive voter list provides an exact-match system more likely to reject eligible voters than allow fraudulent ones; moreover, not a single case of in-person voter fraud has ever been prosecuted in the state. Voter registration cards include addresses at which to find Texans who provide false information, and false applications are prosecutable by fines and imprisonment.

Perhaps most importantly, S.B. 14 acknowledges both that new, extensive voter education efforts will have to be made if photo voter ID passes, and that poll workers will need additional training to handle changed procedures. But with slashes to the state budget, there is no need for increased government expenditure on a policy change with unproven benefits. Moreover, the photo identification component relies heavily on the Department of Public Safety—but with dozens of DPS offices temporarily closed and more slated to be cut altogether, Texans will have even fewer opportunities to acquire necessary identification. In Indiana and Georgia, states that passed the most restrictive photo voter ID bills, ID opponents were unable to produce citizens whose right to vote would actually be impeded by the new law; in Texas, though, county seats—where government ID can easily be issued—are often too far from small towns and communities to make the trip viable. For citizens of Redford, an 88-percent Hispanic community whose county seat of Marfa is over 75 miles away, these photo voter ID restrictions present an unreasonable burden on a basic constitutional right.

Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) has said that he will offer amendments allowing eligible residents to register on early voting days or election day; proposing that all statewide election days are made public holidays; and allowing registered voters to mail in ballots during early voting. We at the ACLU of Texas hope that these and other amendments are considered to alleviate the proposed burden to voting.

Ready, Set, Lege: Your First Liberty Blog Lege Update for the 82nd Session

By Sara Haji
ACLU of Texas Public Education Associate

Welcome to the first ACLU of Texas update of the 82nd Legislative Session! You’ll be able to join us here as we navigate the political corridors of the most exciting state in the union. We’ll brief interesting bills on the docket, talk to some ACLU legislative volunteers, post relevant news coverage about the session, and take a look at what’s coming up. Now, more than ever, we want your feedback about the issues that affect you—so be sure to Tweet and Facebook us because our pages will solicit your opinions at least weekly.

For our first “This Week at the Lege” post, let’s take a look at the issue bedeviling the Texas Legislature during its first month: “sanctuary cities.” On Jan. 11, the first day of the session, Gov. Perry declared to lawmakers that abolishing sanctuary cities was an emergency priority. Making an issue an “emergency item,” a designation at Perry’s sole discretion, can highlight the governor’s political priorities—but with a $27 billion budget shortfall, the banning of so-called sanctuary cities and the inevitable cost of local immigration enforcement will do the state no financial favors.

The term “sanctuary city” has no legal meaning (when pressed by reporters, Gov. Perry stopped short of offering a definition), but tends to refer to a municipality that has an established policy preventing local law enforcement officials from cooperating with or enforcing federal immigration laws. The Texas Tribune ran an excellent piece observing that Texas state authorities abide by the same policy of not inquiring about immigration status unless the inquiry follows some criminal activity. The state of Texas, then, is no more a “sanctuary state” than is Houston a “sanctuary city,” but the term continues to be used by politicians looking to attack each other on the campaign trail.

Proposed abolition of sanctuary cities presumably aims to permit and encourage local police to detain or arrest undocumented immigrants even when they’re not suspected in a crime—often inquiring, that is, merely on the assumption (often because of race) that someone is undocumented. If this is what Gov. Perry meant, then he’ll draw serious opposition from many quarters, including from the ACLU of Texas. Like Arizona’s law, a ban on sanctuary cities would limit the efficacy of local law enforcement by discouraging undocumented or mixed-status households from cooperating with police as crime witnesses or sources of intelligence for fear of deportation. Police officials in Austin, Houston, El Paso and Dallas have already said that enforcing immigration laws can undermine public safety because such policies reduce public participation in reporting crimes.

Local immigration enforcement would also divert public resources from public safety efforts by requiring local law enforcement screen, transport and hold individuals suspected of immigration violations. Major cities in Texas already report officer shortages and local enforcement would only make matters worse. At a time when state services are being scrubbed, the financial burden of enforcing federal immigration policy is too great, especially in cities already in need of more local police.

In the next couple of weeks, we’ll be able to follow what the legislature chooses to do regarding sanctuary cities. Until then, tell us what you think and know about upcoming immigration legislation here or on our Facebook page—and check back in soon for another update.

Privacy Rights Must Keep Pace with Technology

Cross-posted from’s Blog of Rights

In November, a federal court in Texas found that the Constitution requires the government to get a warrant and show probable cause before getting access to someone’s historical location data from their mobile carrier. We applauded this decision because cell phones are tracking devices we carry around in our pockets. Knowing where someone goes can reveal a great deal of personal and private information about them – exactly the sort of information the Fourth Amendment was designed to protect.

The government appealed that decision. Last Friday, the ACLU, the ACLU of Texas and the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a friend-of-the-court (PDF) brief asking the court to uphold the earlier decision. Our brief argues the government should have to go to a judge for a warrant and prove that it has probable cause before getting historical location data.

This is part of our ongoing campaign to make sure that as technology advances, our privacy rights are not left behind.