Ellis Questions DPS Warrant Checks on Texans Applying for Voter ID

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(Austin, Texas) – Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today sent a letter to Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Steve McCraw regarding the agency’s implementation of the voter ID law. The letter can be found below.

The letter questions whether, as recent reports have indicated, DPS will be conducting warrant checks on individuals that visit a DPS driver license office for the purpose of obtaining a free election identification certificate.

“I know that the legislature tasked DPS with a very difficult job,” said Ellis. “But Texas has a long and sad history of making it difficult for people to vote, so we’ve got to be extremely careful with how the voter ID law gets implemented. I can’t stomach asking an eligible voter to face the threat of arrest in order exercise their right to cast a ballot.”

In 2011, Texas passed voter ID legislation, which requires voters to show photo identification in order to vote. The law explicitly sets out the types of photo identification that are acceptable, including the election identification certificate — a new type of ID that is issued by DPS at no cost to the requestor. Election identification certificates may be obtained from any DPS driver license office.

Unless a court stops the law from being implemented, voter ID will be in effect during this November’s elections.

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Letter to DPS:

September 19, 2013

Mr. Steve McCraw
Director, Texas Department of Public Safety
P.O. Box 4087
Austin, Texas 78773

Dear Mr. McCraw:

I recently saw a media report regarding the Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) implementation of the voter photo identification law. Specifically, my understanding is that when an individual requests an election identification certificate at a DPS driver license office, DPS staff immediately determines whether that individual has any outstanding warrants. If a warrant is located, I am told that information is immediately turned over to the Highway Patrol Division.

I therefore have the following questions:

· Can you explain DPS’s policies and procedures regarding individuals requesting an election identification certificate? As you can expect, I am especially interested in whether a search for warrants is indeed conducted for anyone seeking an election identification certificate and how it is determined whether such a search is conducted.
· If such a search for warrants is conducted, what is the specific protocol for what is done with the information? If the information is turned over to the Highway Patrol Division, are there policies regarding what the officers do next, or do they have complete discretion in acting upon the information they receive from the Driver License Division?
· Will an individual that is found to have outstanding warrants still be issued an election identification certificate?

I understand and respect DPS’s role as a law enforcement agency and the difficult duty you have. At the same time, I hope you can appreciate that the threat of possible arrest for merely seeking to exercise one’s right to vote will inevitably have a detrimental impact on the number of election identification certificates issued and thus the ability of otherwise eligible voters to have their voice heard via the ballot box.

Given the fact that we are less than two months away from election day and less than a month away from the registration deadline, I ask that you respond in writing as soon as possible.

I look forward to working with you to ensure that all eligible Texas voters are able to comply with the voter ID law.

Sincerely,

Rodney Ellis

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