The Texas Senate rejected a voter ID bill two years ago, with Democrats blocking the bill out of concern that requiring voters to show a picture ID would discriminate against certain sectors of the electorate (i.e. minorities and the poor.) But Texas Republicans, apparently desperate to stop a purple surge in the Lone Star state, are picking up the dying embers of the voter ID torch for yet another run.
A Supreme Court ruling that allowed Indiana to institute such a law has paved the way for state Senators Troy Fraser (R-District 24), Tommy Williams (R- District 4), and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst to try again. Fraser introduced Senate Bill 362 in December, which would require that each voter show photo ID before being able to cast a vote.
"Voter impersonation is a serious crime, but without a photo ID requirement we can never have confidence in our system of voting,” said Fraser at the time. He also introduced Senate Bill 363, which would require voter applicants to prove U.S. citizenship by furnishing a birth certificate or, if a naturalized citizen, the city, state, and year of taking the naturalization oath. Williams voiced his support for a mere majority vote on the bills that would bypass the normal two-thirds vote required, while Dewhurst crows at his website that “We all know thousands of people have voted illegally in Texas elections.”
Dewhurst, Fraser and Williams appear to be in a tizzy about the concept of voter impersonation, having made some bold claims about the reality of such fraud. Yet they are hard pressed to come up with a SINGLE example of such a crime actually taking place in Texas. The QueQue has inquired with each of their offices as to any evidence of such vote fraud and we're still waiting. Dewhurst says he knows of thousands of such crimes, yet can't document any? This lends his position the rancid smell of disingenuous, partisan politics.
David Iglesias of New Mexico, one of seven U.S. Attorneys fired by the Bush White House for their refusal to bring voter fraud prosecutions, says such vote fraud concerns are trumped up. "We took over 100 complaints," from the GOP, he told acclaimed investigative reporter Greg Palast in 2007. "We investigated for almost 2 years, I didn't find one prosecutable voter fraud case in the entire state of New Mexico."
Iglesias charged that the Bush White House ordered him to illegally prosecute the baseless cases to create contrived vote fraud publicity. He said further that his refusal cost him his job. "They were looking forâ?¦ improperly politicized U.S. attorneys to file bogus voter fraud cases."
“It's really a shame when you look at how more people vote for American Idol than for Presidentâ?¦ We should make it easier `to vote`, not harder,” said state Sen. Mario Gallegos (D - District 6) of Houston, one of the Democrats who blocked the previous Texas voter ID bill in 2007.
Gallegos said a voter ID bill would suppress the Democratic vote from about three to five percent. He then cited numbers from the most recent judicial elections in Harris County, where Democrats won an overwhelming majority of those races, all by around three percent said Gallegos. He said the handful of races that the Democrats lost were all by about one percent.
Ryan LaRue, spokesperson for Tommy Williams, says that the group Texas Watchdog found 4,000 dead people registered to vote in Harris County and that there's evidence some of those names were used to cast fraudulent votes. This is the same Texas Watchdog group who warned last year that 6,000 dead people were registered to vote in Dallas County, and that some of those names were used for fraudulent votes. But The Dallas Morning News debunked such claims in a December story where it was revealed that of the 48 names Texas Watchdog said may have been used, 47 were shown not to have been involved in a fraudulent vote and that the other had been purged from the voter rolls.
“In the majority of cases, clerical errors by poll workers or county employees explained why the voter was marked as having cast a ballot, when no ballot was cast,” The Morning News reported. “Those errors stem from the very methods the county employs to prevent fraud and track voting at polling precincts.”
In the case of the 48 names produced by Texas Watchdog, The Morning News determined that the mistakes generally occurred because a poll worker stamped the wrong name in the poll book or a county employee scanned the wrong bar code. When queried about the quantity of deceased on the rolls, county officials said that those rolls have always contained the names of many dead people since they aren't updated constantly, and because it takes time to verify a death with certainty.
But LaRue still argues that the case for voter ID in Texas is bolstered by the 6-3 Supreme Court ruling that allowed the Indiana law, in which Chief Justice John Roberts cited that more than 40 percent of the names on the state voter rolls were composed of dead people or other duplicate entries. The court ruled that this created a potential for fraud that the state had an interest in combating. Still, Justice David Souter's dissent said "Indiana's 'Voter ID Law' threatens to impose nontrivial burdens on the voting right of tens of thousands of the state's citizens and a significant percentage of those individuals are likely to be deterred from voting."
LaRue says Texas is similar to Indiana, citing a November 2007 state auditor's report which found that roughly 49,000 out of about 12.3 million names (0.4 percent) were ineligible to vote in the May 12, 2007, special election. These included over 23,000 for “possible felons,” another 23,000-plus who may be deceased and duplicate records for 2,359.
Yet that report also noted that “Auditors did not identify any instances in which potentially ineligible voters actually voted during the May 12, 2007, special electionâ?¦” Likewise, Paul Smith, attorney for the Democratic Party of Indiana, countered that despite the inaccuracies of the voter rolls, there was still no evidence of any actual vote fraud in Indiana and that a voter ID law would unfairly affect the poorest voters.
All of this makes a voter ID law appear to be a politicized solution in search of a non-existent problem. The danger of legitimate American citizens being disenfranchised from their right to vote in Texas by such a law is highlighted by a new lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund that challenges “recently-adopted rules and policies of the Texas Department of Public Safety that are preventing thousands of persons across Texas from receiving standard-issued licenses.”
MALDEF attorney David Hinojosa says they have filed suit in the Travis County District Court to stop DPS from making itself into a de facto immigration agency.
“It's not that it could affect citizens, it is `already` affecting citizens,” said Hinojosa. He described a call MALDEF received from a U.S. citizen who was not born in the country, but is a derivative citizen, who was denied a driver's license three times for not having the documentation that was being required. A passport did not suffice.
“It seems that you would have to present a certificate of citizenship or birth certificate, and all that's unnecessary,” said Hinojosa. “That's just one story, we've heard from many people being denied and having to come back time and again with more documentationâ?¦ They `DPS` have become pseudo immigration agentsâ?¦”
Hinojosa accuses DPS commissioners, appointed by Governor Rick Perry, of trying to undemocratically circumvent the state legislature on the issue.
"DPS has tried to sneak these rules in through the back door and in doing so, has created a litany of problems preventing both citizens and non-citizens with legal permission from receiving licenses," said Hinojosa in the MALDEF press release. "This is not only harming persons by denying them licenses but also businesses that need their workers to drive in performing their jobs."
“You can talk to DPS employees themselves and they're not very happy with having to institute these policies,” said Hinojosa. He said MALDEF hopes the case will be heard in mid-February to at least gain a temporary restraining order from the court.
“It's `voter ID` really targeted at suppressing minority voters. It's partisan, it's the old Karl Rove `trick` back againâ?¦ The Republican Party is seeing census numbers that the Latino community is voting in record numbers,” concludes state Sen. Gallegos. “So I thinkâ?¦ it's a last gasp to try and suppress the vote.”