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Voter ID passes the House

As expected. There was a long and often contentious debate, but when you have a 2/3 majority as the Republicans currently do, you usually get what you want.

Gov. Rick Perry declared the voter ID issue an emergency issue, which also ranks as a high priority for the Texas Republican Party. The House tentatively approved the measure, 101-48. Republicans control the chamber, 101-49.

Because Republicans defeated amendment after amendment intended to make it easier for voters to cast ballots, Democrats suggested Republicans were primarily interested in suppressing votes of minority Texans – who usually lean Democratic.

“We fear it’s about voter suppression,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

“It’s all about shaping the voter pool to benefit the Republican Party,” Rep. Joaquin Castro said.

Legislators spent nearly 12 hours considering some 60 amendments.

Republicans defeated an amendment that would have allowed college and high school students to use their government-issued ID cards for voting. Democrats also lost their bid to extend photo identification to same-day registration, which would allow eligible voters to simultaneously register and cast a ballot if they produced proper identification.

So you can’t use your government-issued student ID card to vote, but you can use your government-issued concealed carry license to vote. Go figure.

This isn’t quite the end in the Lege for this. As with the sonogram bill, the House and Senate versions differ – among other things, the House stripped out the Senate’s exemption for voters over the age of 70 on an amendment by Republican Rep. Dennis Bonnen – so it will have to go to a conference committee to iron it all out. Unlike the sonogram bill, the resulting legislation doesn’t need to be acceptable to any Senate Democrats, as there is no two-thirds rule for voter ID bills. I don’t expect there to be any serious complications.

As I said before, this will all ultimately be decided in the courts. The Texas Independent notes that a current case may have an effect on that, and gives some general background.

Some observers, including an Indiana law expert, believe that Pres. Barack Obama’s DOJ might be inclined to act differently than Bush’s DOJ, especially given the strictness of Texas’ legislation. Read the Texas Independent for previous reporting.

If the voter ID bill becomes law, then Texas would also have the option of bypassing the DOJ in favor of a three-judge panel in D.C. Whether the judicial panel would be more favorable than the DOJ to Texas’ law is up for speculation.

Saying that the DOJ “really should have denied preclearance” to the Georgia law — considering that DOJ staffers’ recommendation to disapprove the law was overruled by White House appointees — election law professor Daniel P. Tokaji said, “I think there’s a very good chance Texas will be denied preclearance if [voter photo ID legislation] becomes law.”

Tokaji is a professor of law at The Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. He recently wrote a commentary opposing voter photo ID legislation being considered in Ohio.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in support of Indiana’s voter photo ID law largely because opponents were unable to produce sufficient proof of voter disenfranchisement. However, as Tokaji points out, those guidelines are different for a Section 5 preclearance decision.

“In a Section 5 challenge, the covered entity actually has the burden of proving the measure will not have a retrogressive impact on minorities,” he said.

“I think there’s a very strong argument that it would violate Section 5,” Tokaji said.

Clearly, there’s much about this that’s still up in the air, and we may not know the final outcome for months, if not years. Until then, ponder this:

Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, wanted to give counties an exemption from complying with the legislation if it would cost them money to implement. Nearly 90 lawmakers have sponsored a resolution this session opposing unfunded mandates for local communities.

Menendez lost, 98-48.

Some unfunded mandates are better than others, obviously. Greg, EoW, and the Trib has more, and a statement from Democratic Caucus chair Rep. Jessica Farrar is beneath the fold.

House Republicans Pass Voter Disenfranchisement Legislation

Today the House of Representatives voted 101 to 48 to approve SB 14, requiring voters to show a photo identification card when they go to the polls. The bill now goes to a conference committee that will reconcile the differences between the House and Senate passed bills. Four other states already have a photo ID requirement, but SB 14 stands out as the strictest, threatening to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Texas voters.

The photo ID bill purports to address voter impersonation, a narrow and specific kind of voter fraud that State Attorney General Greg Abbott has found to be nonexistent in the State, despite multiple attempts to uncover a problem. Real voter fraud does occur with mail in ballots, which this bill completely ignores. If the Texas Legislature were serious about stopping voter fraud, it would address this issue. Clearly, Republicans are using this pointless bill as a simple political tool to keep Democratic-friendly voters from the polls, like the elderly. In a drastic change of heart, Republicans removed a provision in the bill that would allow an exemption for elderly folk from producing their ID at the polling place. Furthermore, the bill falsely states that a person can simply receive a “free” personal ID. As Rep. Armando Martinez said, “there is no such thing as a free ID. It takes an ID, to get an ID.”

The bill also makes Texas’ voter registration process irrelevant. “This modern day poll tax would do nothing to strengthen our voting system, but threatens to disenfranchise lawful voters across the state,” said Representative Jessica Farrar, who also voiced concerns about costs to state and local entities, particularly as they relate to voter registration. “I have serious questions now about voter registration cards. What is the point of issuing these cards now that voters cannot use them? This seems like a considerable waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Rep. Farrar.

The list of citizens who could be denied the right to vote because of the new requirement is quite lengthy, and includes: the elderly, women who are recently married or divorced, college students, the poor, those who live in rural areas, Hispanics, and African Americans. Texas already reports the lowest voter turnout in the nation. This bill would make these dismal numbers even worse by preventing legitimate registered voters from casting ballots.

Instead of spending the short time remaining during session deliberating the budget crisis, the Republicans in control are choosing to waste time on unnecessary, nonemergency legislation that chips away at citizens’ fundamental rights. Because of the structural deficit created by the Republicans, 43,700 senior citizens living in nursing homes face eviction. In addition, deep cuts to education threaten the future of the state. The budget is the real emergency. Photo ID legislation is simply a distraction that does nothing to address the critically urgent issues affecting citizens across the state.

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