By Kirsten Bokenkamp
“You need an ID to be able to check out a book at the library. Why shouldn’t you need one at the polls?” We heard this argument in support of the new Voter ID bill over and over again at the Capitol during the last legislative session. The answer, of course, is that the right to vote is constitutionally protected, whereas library privileges are not. That’s why a library can charge a fee for a library card, but even the most stringent supporter of the Voter ID bill would cringe at the idea of a poll tax.
We argued long and hard against passing the new voter ID bill in Texas, but unfortunately the anti-immigrant haze that covered the Capitol during the last legislative session clouded fair and smart decision-making to ensure the integrity of the vote. The new law, which will require a state-approved picture ID for all people voting in person, is supposed to go into effect on January 1, 2012. Because Texas has a history of voter disenfranchisement, the Voting Rights Act requires the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to ensure that any new voting law does not discriminate against minorities.
The DOJ is waiting on the state of Texas to provide the racial breakdown and counties of residence of the estimated 605,500 registered voters who do not have a state-issued license or ID. They are also asking how many voters have Spanish surnames. Apparently, the Texas Secretary of State’s office will provide the information but Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the agency said it will be significantly skewed and won’t be very reliable. One reason for this is because the category “Hispanic” wasn’t included until 2009. Rebecca Acuna, spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party, said that the limited data that the state has already furnished shows that Hispanic voters would be disproportionately disenfranchised.
The ACLU of Texas was against this bill from the beginning, as it will clearly discourage or downright prevent many eligible voters from voting. ID cards are not easy for all Texans to access – there are 34 Texas counties without a DPS office and 46 additional counties where DPS offices have been temporarily closed. In West Texas that means some people may have to travel hundreds of miles to obtain the proper ID to vote. This is unacceptable, especially when the bill was based on a problem – voter fraud at the polls – that simply doesn’t exist in Texas. We hope that the DOJ will come to the right conclusion – that the voter ID law in Texas is discriminatory and will disenfranchise voters who are legally entitled to vote. Stay tuned!