Texas Voter ID Law Ensnares Former Speaker of the House, Candidates for Governor, State Judge

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This post first appeared in The Nation.

Former House Speaker Jim Wright of Texas stands next to the Texas pillar while touring the World War II Memorial in Washington, Friday, July 29, 2005. (AP Photo/Yuri Gripas)
Former House Speaker Jim Wright of Texas stands next to the Texas pillar while touring the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., on July 29, 2005. (AP Photo/Yuri Gripas)

Former Speaker of the House Jim Wright has voted in every election since 1944 and represented Texas in Congress for 34 years. But when he went to his local Department of Public Safety office to obtain the new voter ID required to vote – which he never needed in any previous election – the 90-year-old Wright was denied. His driver’s license is expired and his Texas Christian University faculty ID is not accepted as a valid form of voter ID.

To be able to vote in Texas, including in Tuesday’s election for statewide constitutional amendments, Wright’s assistant will have to get a certified copy of his birth certificate, which costs $22. According to the state of Texas, 600,000 to 800,000 registered voters in Texas don’t have a valid form of government-issued photo ID. Wright is evidently one of them. But unlike Wright, most of these voters will not have an assistant or the political connections of a former speaker of the house to help them obtain a birth certificate to prove their identify, nor can they necessarily make two trips to the DMV office or afford a birth certificate.

The devil is in the details when it comes to voter ID. And the rollout of the new law in Texas is off to a very bad start. “I earnestly hope these unduly stringent requirements on voters won’t dramatically reduce the number of people who vote,” Wright told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I think they will reduce the number to some extent.”

As I’ve reported previously, getting the necessary voter ID in Texas, which has one of the strictest laws in the country, is no walk in the park. As in Wright’s case, you need to pay for a birth certificate or another type of citizenship document to obtain one (which Eric Holder called a poll tax). A handgun permit is an acceptable voter ID in Texas but a university ID is not. And there are no DMV offices in 81 of 254 counties in Texas. That’s probably why only 50 of the 600-800,000 registered voters without voter ID in the state have so far successfully obtained one. (The Department of Justice has filed suit to block the law, which was invalidated by a federal court last year but reinstated when the Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Texas filed a motion last Friday to dismiss the lawsuit.)

Beyond the hundreds of thousands of voters, like Wright, who don’t have valid ID, millions more in Texas could be inconvenienced or disenfranchised by a provision of the law stipulating that a voter’s photo ID be “substantially similar” to their name in the poll book. In this year’s elections for statewide constitutional amendments in Texas, a district court judge, a state senator and both candidates for governor — Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott — had to sign affidavits to vote because their IDs didn’t match their poll book names.

In a highly ironic twist, Davis, a critic of the voter ID law, offered an amendment to allow voters whose IDs were not identical to their poll names to be able to sign an affidavit to vote, which allowed her 2014 gubernatorial opponent, Greg Abbott, a top supporter of voter ID, to cast a ballot this year.

Reported Zack Roth of MSNBC:

In 2011, Davis introduced an amendment to the voter ID bill saying that if names are substantially similar but not identical, voters can sign an affidavit and still vote. The original bill as drafted by Republicans would have required voters in that situation to present a document showing a name change — something few people bring with them when they go to vote.

And it gets better — or worse. Greg Abbott, the front-runner for the GOP nomination for governor, also will have to sign an affidavit, his campaign said, thanks to a similar names mismatch. Abbott, the state attorney general, has defended the voter ID law in court.

“If it weren’t for Wendy Davis’ leadership, Greg Abbott might have nearly disenfranchised himself,” Davis spokesman Bo Delp said.

One in seven voters in Dallas County has had to sign an affidavit in order to vote this year. That’s over 1,000 voters so far. This requirement can create a lot of confusion and, at the very least, makes voting take longer than it should. In a high turnout election, like in 2014 when Davis will face Abbott, Texas could very well resemble Florida when it comes to long lines and electoral dysfunction. “When you have a huge turnout, a minute for every voter could really produce some lines,” Dallas County elections administrator Toni Pippins-Poole told the Dallas Morning News.

Supporters of voter ID, like Abbott, claim the law is necessary to stop voter fraud, even though there’s been only one voter impersonation conviction in Texas since 2000. Instead, the law is ensnaring the top political leaders in the state. And this is only the beginning, unless and until the federal courts decide to stop it.

Ari Berman is a contributing writer for The Nation magazine and an Investigative Journalism Fellow at The Nation Institute. His first book, Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, was published in October 2010 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. He is now working on a history of voting rights since 1965. Tweet him @AriBerman.
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  • Russell Scott Day

    Knock over a Confederate States of America because the Confederate States of America make a mockery of Federal Civil Rights. There it is in your face, and you let it go because being nice is more important to you all.

  • cmhbph

    perhaps next year and thereafter they can use their insurance card as ID – since everyone is by law required to have insurance it would be the most reasonable form of ID.

  • Anonymous

    To republicans the reduction in number of people who can vote is a feature, not a bug. This was their goal all along. If it inconveniences some republicans, that is OK in their minds, because it will prevent even more democrats from voting. It is infuriating that these types of laws are being pushed through throughout the US and so many people argue that they are needed to prevent fraud, when it is obvious that there is no fraud to prevent and the authors of these bills have even stated their purpose as being reducing democratic turnout.

  • Anonymous

    Nice to see the freedom loving, flag waving, State of Texas practicing democracy. Funny how we’re so critical about voter suppression in the middle east, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, meanwhile the same people crying about jack boots and “Obama Tyranny” are the ones robbing citizens of the one true power over tyranny in this country, the power to vote.

  • Anonymous

    I dont know whether to vote your comment up or down – WTF? Gibberish.

  • Anonymous

    Why is everyone so surprised? The tea-bagging (R)’s are “crazy like a fox” and willing to prove their insanity by getting all kinds of this crap passed via ALEC. The fox is in charge of the henhouse as they say.

  • Charlie

    Guarding the henhouse.

  • Anonymous

    its going to accomplish its only objective. fewer poor people will vote. in due course, the more money you have, the more likely you will jump all these hurdles. the rich are more likely to be self employed or not even work a real job, just calling their broker now and then. So they have the time to deal with this, or can make the time. or like in the article, their assistants deal with it. the poor have less time and are less likely to own cars. In more than 80 counties, Tx has no DMV. It will add up. and accomplish its objective. it will prevent the poor from voting.

  • Anonymous

    wake up. its being done by Republicans in many states. they are preventing the poor and students and elderly from voting by adding requirements and reducing the time available to vote. it was already the case that 85% of the well to do voted and less than 50% of the poor. This will just make the effective result of the votes of the rich greater proportionally.

  • Lorie Lanktree

    How many redneck republicans will not have a valid government issue ID? They’re supposed to be fighting government intrusion. They are going to be eliminating as many of their own voters as they are the opposition. I just hope they eliminate enough to lose.

  • Steve Cross

    It looks as if the new voter ID law will serve its real purpose, which is to suppress the vote.

  • Mike Biller

    The state of Utah would not accept my retired, military ID card, which has my picture and my social security number as proof of my social security number. I guess that would just as soon that this Democrat not vote or drive in Utah.

  • Anonymous

    Let us see how many people cannot vote because of this voting requirement before we all go screaming bloody murder.

  • Irene Pruzek

    Why should we have to say, “wait and see”? That’s like playing Russian Roulette with our democracy. The intention is clearly to throw every road block in the way of poor, old and young voters who are generally democratic and is intended to take away their ability and right to vote.

  • Liz

    How will we prove a negative? Are you willing to station someone outside every voting place, to count how many are turned away? Are you going to count the ones who have to leave before they vote because they can’t wait in the long lines because they have to get to work? And how many people will “matter” enough to prove that this law is idiotic–if one fake vote means that such a ridiculous law should be passed, will one suppressed vote mean that it should be repealed? After all, surely it’s more important to preserve a right than to prevent a possible crime.

  • Anonymous

    Oh wait: “Former House Speaker Jim Wright gets ID to vote” http://www.star-telegram.com/2013/11/04/5305718/former-house-speaker-jim-wright.html

    And in fact the birth certificate fee is waived for voters applying for a free Voter ID, so no “poll tax.”

    The affidavit Davis proposed was already standard procedure when voters presented ID other than their voter registration certificate and the names didn’t match. And it takes only a few seconds to initial the poll book, which completes the affidavit.

    Voter ID is actually off to a great start in Texas: Turnout is almost double 2011.
    http://m.amarillo.com/news/latest-news/2013-11-04/new-voter-id-law-impacting-voter-turnout-statewide

  • Michael Kosak

    It figures a story in ‘The Nation” thinks people are too stupid to get valid ID to make sure they can vote. considering who reads “The Nation” they may have a point

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the clarification.

  • Anonymous

    Well you can bet there will be a grin, a wink and a nod when Billy Joe Bob shows up packing heat and claims his .44 is all the ID he needs.

  • Anonymous

    Figures that someone who thinks this is about people being “stupid” didn’t bother to read the article.

  • Marilyn

    Bill Joe Bob’s NRA card is a valid ID to vote in Texas but a photo college ID is not which speaks volumes.

  • VIsidore

    Did you read the entire article? Distance and access is an issue. “there are no DMV offices in 81 of 254 counties in Texas. That’s probably why only 50 of the 600-800,000 registered voters without voter ID in the state have so far successfully obtained one. ” It is not just obtaining a free birth certificate.

  • rain,adustbowlstory

    The dividing line is $50,000. Rachel Maddow was pointing out last night that voters who make less than that tend to vote Democratic; voters who make more (at least in Texas) tend to vote Republican.

    So add to all the other burdens placed on the working poor right now, the fact that the the Republicans (never stupid about such things) are going to make it harder and harder for a Taco Bell worker to drive all day to a DMV for ID or to pay to have a copy of the birth certicate….

    As a Texas writer, I can tell you, it is wearing to be a Democrat in that state. They are some strong people.

  • Anonymous

    It is much worse than a poll tax – it basically makes it so that only property owners can vote (money is property) – which was the law in the original US constitution when only white men with property were allowed the vote. Later the constitution was changed. Property ownership was no longer required. Women and minorities were given the vote. Requiring someone PAY to exercise their constitutional right is in fact both a poll tax and a violation of the constitution.

    …and all because there was one (count’ em), one case of verified voter fraud since 2000? If there are lots of cases then Texas is grossly incompetent of detecting any – but we all know that the real intent is voter suppression. A vote suppressed through unreasonable and excessive obstacles is every bit as bad as a fraudulent vote, and we know there will be millions of verifiable cases of the former from laws like these and virtually none of the later.

  • Anonymous

    I am not going to do anything. On the other hand, the Secretary of State in Texas and local officials will have that duty. If the extra ID becomes a problem for voters, it can be changed.

  • Steve Mullinax

    The law is a “problem for voters” now. Examples: Jim Wright, the TX woman judge who got turned away, and my 86-year-old aunt, with no DL. I spent 1 1/2 hours today researching the requirements to get a photo ID. My guess is she will be disenfranchised, despite having voted for many years. If you’re waiting until the ID requirement becomes “a problem for voters”, that time is now.

  • Anonymous

    Same thing here in North Carolina. Their case is that “…it’s not a STATE issued ID…”
    Of course, that doesn’t explain their insistence that the state issued photo ID’s for tens of thousands of state university students also are considered inadequate.
    It’s nothing but bullying.

  • Anonymous

    You’re of course correct Mr. Munday. It ain’t bloody murder.
    It’s simply one group depriving another of their rights of citizenship.
    You can bet your lungs on one thing, however… there will be incalculably more people screwed by this disenfranchising effort than there ever were who “voted illegally”.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Mullinax: It is unfortunate that your aunt had problems. The State tried to anticipate these problems. In the cases where there was indeed a problem, options were made available. The information about photo IDs is readily available on several state web sites. Being inconvenienced is not the same as being disenfranchised, in my opinion. Your aunt is fortunate to have you help her overcome the inconvenience.

  • Anonymous

    “Incalculably more people screwed by this disenfranchising…” you said. Have you seen any figures to support that hyperbolic prediction? I haven’t nor have I heard anything to date of trying to screw the system by voting illegally. Of course, this election was more about issues than people or people politics.

    For now, let us hear how many people in Texas were denied the right to vote who were legally entitled to vote.

  • Anonymous

    The intention you assert is not clear to me. Is this your personal opinion or do you have verifiable facts to support such an alleged transgression?

  • Steve Mullinax

    Yes, I am aware of the info about photo ID’s from the web sites. Thanks for your faith in my abilities. But we haven’t yet solved her problem, and I’m not sure I can. In addition to her BC, she needs a marriage license to validate her name change. I don’t know if I am going to be able to get one. If I find the right county clerk, there’s an additional cost for a “certified copy”. So far I have spent about 3 and 1/2 hours web-surfing and calling. Other family spending time going through her files to find docs. At what point does inconvenience (time and cost) become disenfranchisement? Don’t be too cavalier about the value of my time and my family’s time.

  • Steve Mullinax

    How many people being “denied the right to vote who were legally entitled to vote” will it take before you yield this point? (Also, what’s the number of fraud cases that required passage of this law, and how does that compare with the number of people being denied voting?) Those of us confronting this head-on and personal find the possible loss of our (or our family members’) voting rights to be an affront.

  • Anonymous

    So noted. Thank you and good night, Mr. Mullinax.

  • Steve Mullinax

    And good night to you, Mr. Munday.

  • Anonymous

    If the number of people denied the right to vote is one (1), Mr. Munday, we should all be protesting to the max.

  • Anonymous

    Utopia or perfect world is not our living space. Whatever laws we humans pass will inherently contain flaws. One denial could be human error. Disagree with you and, yes, I am chuckling at your childlike comment.

  • Anonymous

    Utopia is certainly not our “living space”. Nonetheless, utopia should always be our goal. The flaws that our laws contain should always be rooted out and discarded. That is the point of good governance.
    I’m sorry to disabuse you of your mental image, Mr. Munday… I’m quite likely much older than you.
    I have in my life had some experience with bullies and your attempt to dismiss my point by demeaning my character is typical of the behavior of bullies.
    As such, you get the last word and I leave this “discussion” shaking my head.

  • Anonymous

    I am sorry if you think my simple comments were abusive and demeaning. I don’t believe I referenced your character, but at my extended age, anything is possible. As two professed elders, we surely can agree that age, even advancing age, does not guarantee wisdom.

    To disagree is not the same as bullying but rather the engagement of two opinions.

    Thank you for your time if not your intellectual vigor.

  • pnclement

    Flippin’ dumb butt Texans will be spending upwards of $10 Million dollars as a result of this new law. However, they would not have to spend a dime to insure there’s not voter fraud, because there’s no evidence of any voter fraud. Good going Texas Republicans, you have been able to shrink the size of government by depleting money needed to pay for real things and not imaginary things like voter fraud!

  • moderator

    SteveMunday1949,

    Referring to someone’s comment as “childlike” doesn’t add anything to the discussion. Please read our comment policy.

    Thank You,
    Sean @ Moyers

  • Anonymous

    Sean: That is your opinion and it is your discussion.

    Childlike can be praise or criticism or merely a discernment. My comment was discerning in the context of demanding zero tolerance of error in an imperfect world. Thank you.–sdm

  • jonathan

    their is no voter fraud, what is going on is white men like perry realize the country they once owned is changing. they don’t want to change with the country and they realize their policies don’t work for anyone but them. so what do they do, they take away the constitutional rights(the constitution they love) from those who would not vote for them. they can no longer win elections on ideas. they have to turn to voter suppression and gerrymandering.

  • Anonymous

    So, who are the real racists here – the ones who believe everyone (regardless of race/ethnicity) should be required to have ID to vote, or those who think minorities are incapable of obtaining ID? I think the answer is all too obvious.

    Let’s face it folks, the one and only reason that Democrats are opposed to voter ID requirements is that it prevents voter fraud.