AUSTIN – Despite scant evidence of actual cheating at the polls, allegations of voter fraud fueled the controversial law that makes a picture ID necessary to vote in Texas.
Fewer than five complaints involving voter impersonations were filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office from the 2008 and 2010 general elections, which drew more than 13 million voters.
The Department of Justice has deemed the law in violation of the Voting Rights Act, finding that it would disproportionately affect minorities, who are less likely to have a photo ID.
Proponents of the embattled legislation contend the actual number of voter impersonations is hard to prove without the photo requirement.
Texas has suffered from “multiple cases of voter fraud,” Gov. Rick Perry said in a recent Fox News interview, though the attorney general handled just 20 allegations of election law violations in the 2008 and 2010 elections. Most involved mail-in ballot or campaign finance violations, electioneering too close to a polling place or a voter blocked by an election worker.
To sell the voter ID law, however, supporters conjured up images of “busloads of illegal immigrants being transported up from Mexico to vote straight-ticket Democratic in an election near you,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas. “That was the fantasy, the scary narrative.”
No one disputes some level of voting abuse, said Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. “However, what every investigation has proven is that the kind of fraud voter ID laws would address – voter impersonation – doesn’t really exist,” Ellis said. “In fact, there are more UFO and Bigfoot sightings than documented cases of voter impersonation.”
Abbott files suit
Republican lawmakers last year passed the Texas law, which the U.S. Department of Justice rejected March 12 because of evidence that the requirement would impede minority voters, in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
The matter now goes to federal court, ahead of a May 29 primary for local, state and congressional races in Texas.
Attorney General Greg Abbott filed suit March 14 in Washington, D.C., challenging a provision of the Voting Rights Act that requires states with a history of discrimination to be pre-cleared before changing their election laws, asserting that Texas should no longer be subjected to the requirement.
If enforced, the photo ID requirement could adversely affect more than 600,000 otherwise eligible voters and disproportionately challenge Hispanics, according to the Justice Department.
Up to 795,955 registered voters in Texas do not have a Texas driver’s license and insistence that they obtain a DPS ID card to vote could be problematic in some 70 Texas counties and inner cities that lack a DPS driver’s license office.
Hispanics are nearly twice as likely as non-Hispanics to live in these areas, according to the Justice Department study issued this week.
Texas lacks resources to allow convenient access to obtain a voter ID card, said Jeffrey Travillion, a spokesman for the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches.
“We do not have enough resources so that the average person who wants to get their voter ID can do so in a reasonable period of time,” Travillion said.
Inner-city residents will also suffer, said Mexican American Legislative Caucus Chairman Rep. Trey Fischer, D-San Antonio.
2-hour bus ride
“This is just a bad deal,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. Driver’s license offices in Houston’s inner-city communities are few and far between without convenient access, said Coleman, who counted only four such offices scattered in far-flung locations serving only some inner-city residents.
More than a half-million Houston residents have no nearby DPS driver license office in the southern part of Houston, Coleman said.
Folks who need a DPS ID card face at least a two-hour bus ride and “unconscionably long waiting lines” at driver’s license offices, Coleman said: “People who are paid by the hour lose pay standing in line to access the voter identification card. They will not do it. And that’s the reason the whole bill disenfranchises voters based on income and based on age and based on ethnicity as it combines with income.
“Unfortunately, the people who are in charge in our state have never lived a life without mobility or access,” Coleman said.
Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, whose office is determined in partisan elections, supports a photo ID law for Texas voters.
“You can hardly exist today without a photo ID. You can’t cash a check. You can’t rent a video. You can’t get food stamps without a photo ID or a birth certificate or quality identification,” said Stanart, a former GOP activist.
He called for foes to instead spend their time helping those without licenses get their DPS photo ID card.