The state’s contested voter ID law could provoke widespread complications in the upcoming presidential elections, with as many as 18 percent of all registered voters across Texas apparently lacking state government-issued photo IDs to match their voter registration cards, according to records obtained by the Houston Chronicle.
Texas secretary of state officials did not find matching 2012 driver’s licenses or state-issued photo IDs for 2.4 million of the state’s 12.8 million registered voters, though all but about 800,000 of those voters supplied a valid identification number when they first registered to vote. The findings come from documents submitted by the state to the U.S. Department of Justice as part of an ongoing review of the new voter ID law.
The “matching” exercises conducted by the state showed up to 22 percent of Bexar County voters apparently lacked the IDs, as well as 20 percent in Dallas County and 19 percent in Harris County, based on the Chronicle’s review of the state data.
If approved, the new law would require voters to present official Department of Public Safety IDs that basically mirror their registration cards. An unknown number of voters hold passports, concealed handgun licenses or military IDs that also would be accepted.
The law appears to most heavily impact voters in 20 of Texas’ majority Hispanic counties. In nine of those counties, 40 percent or more of registered voters did not perfectly match 2012 DPS data – such as Hidalgo County, home to 170,000 voters, including many Mexican-Americans and retirees who spill into South Texas’ Mission and McAllen every winter.
The secretary of state conducted the comparisons at the Justice Department’s request. Because of historic discrimination, Texas and other Southern states face special scrutiny under the Voting Rights Act, which requires those states to win approval from the Justice Department or a Washington, D.C.-based federal court before making election changes. A DOJ decision is expected Monday.
Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a related lawsuit on Jan. 23 to defend the voter ID law if DOJ fails to “prequalify” it. Abbott is among many Republican lawmakers who argue the voter ID law will help prevent fraud and reduce errors in the county-based voter rolls.
“By taking the simple action of requiring a photo ID – the same requirement for a library card or boarding an airplane – before voting, we can maintain the integrity and fairness of our electoral system,” said Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry. “There is no legitimate reason for the DOJ to create any further obstacles to this important law.”
Since 2006, Texas voters have been asked for driver’s licenses or the last four digits of their Social Security numbers as part of the application process. Voters whose identification is not verified in advance also are asked for ID at the polls, but many forms are accepted.
In a letter to the Justice Department, secretary of state officials said they struggled to find matching DPS photo IDs even for voters who’d previously indicated they had driver’s licenses. Many Texans used variations of names in public records due to name changes after marriage, divorce or adoption; “inconsistent use of nicknames or initials; inconsistent placement of suffixes such as Jr. or III; misspellings … and clerical data-entry errors,” the letter said.
Nicknames and common names already complicate verification at the polls. A separate Chronicle analysis of Harris County voters shows more than 190,000 share first and last names: 469 are Maria Garcia; 350 male voters are Jose Martinez and another 185 answer to Robert Smith. More than 250 registered to vote under nicknames like “Junior” and “Sonny.”
Voters over 65 and the disabled can avoid the ID requirement by arranging in advance to cast ballots by mail, according to Abbott’s press release.
Jessica Arguijo, the activity director at Windsong Village Nursing Home in Pearland, expects to help about 20 elderly residents confirm their registration status and arrange for mail-in ballots or transportation this year. That’s already a challenge without additional rules, she said.
‘Everything … on hold’
Walter Johnson, 81, voted for decades in Harris County, but allowed his registration to lapse after suffering a stroke and moving to Windsong. He no longer has a driver’s license and will have to re-register to vote. He doesn’t like the ID law.
“I think every American should be able to vote without any restrictions – one man, one vote,” he said.
Under the law, free election ID cards would be provided for Texans who can get to a DPS office. But about 80 Texas counties don’t have an office and DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said preparations for the IDs have been halted pending the DOJ review.
“We haven’t issued any. Everything remains on hold,” he said.
Texas does not track the race and ethnicity of voters. However, a Brennan Center for Justice report estimated that 207,000 African-Americans, 33,000 Asian-Americans and 237,000 Latinos of voting age lack the necessary IDs. Another of its studies estimated 18 percent of voters over 65 nationwide lack such an ID.
“This is a disguise – smoke and mirrors for a poll tax for the elderly and the disabled, regardless of the race, and for those who are dependent on public transportation,” said State Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Galena Park, a harsh critic of the law. “We’re going back to the Jim Crow days.”