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Voter ID and the Driver Responsibility Program

Grits returns to a question he has asked before.

The Dallas News last week (March 24) published a feature behind the paywall by reporter Terrence Stutz titled “Texas lawmakers want brakes put on driver surcharges for road violations,” as well as an editorial on the public part of their site calling for the repeal of this “messy mistake of a law.” Their timing was good because state Rep. Larry Gonzales’ HB 104 has been scheduled for a public hearing on Wednesday, April 3 upon adjournment in the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. I wholeheartedly agree it’s time to eliminate the surcharge and find better, more reliable ways to fund regional trauma centers. However, vanity compels me to highlight a sidebar to the story which ponders a question Grits first considered last year in this post: “Was the Texas voter ID law undone by the troubled Texas Driver Responsibility Program?” Noted Stutz:

Although no study has ever been done on the link between the two, experts have speculated that the driving surcharge program — which has caused 1.3 million drivers to lose their licenses — made it much more difficult for Texas to defend its 2011 law requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls.

In August, a federal appeals court refused to uphold the voter ID law in part because so many Texans lacked a driver’s license or state photo ID. Minorities made up a large percentage of them.

An analysis by the Texas secretary of state last year could not find matching driver’s licenses or state photo IDs for as many as 2.4 million Texas voters. That included 1.6 million who had licenses or IDs when they registered to vote.

From Grits for Breakfast:

Among those who see a link is Austin political consultant and criminal justice blogger Scott Henson. Based on the numbers, he sees a “definite correlation” between the DRP and the large number of voters who don’t have the photo ID most Texans rely on — a driver’s license.

“I’d love to see the state run another matching program to find out how many voters without a current ID have defaulted on one or more of the Driver Responsibility Program surcharges,” Henson wrote on his blog, Grits for Breakfast.

Henson, who has testified in favor of the program’s repeal, also added: “How many negative consequences must the state suffer from this ill-conceived revenue-generation scheme before the Legislature finally repeals it?”

Grits continues to believe that the surcharge was a major contributor to Texas’ voter ID law being rejected – not the sole reason, perhaps, but neither at all an insignificant one. I also believe it has significantly harmed the economy.

See here for my thoughts on that Grits post from last year. It’s an interesting hypothesis, but we don’t have nearly enough data to make any firm conclusions. For what it’s worth, I think the biggest factor in the non-preclearance of voter ID was the Republicans’ utter refusal to accommodate in any way the large number of Texans who lack drivers licenses. If they had made any good faith effort to address that, I think it would have mooted the issue. But of course they didn’t want to address that – the whole point of voter ID was and is to prevent certain people from voting – so they got slamdunked by the court, and we are left to ponder these other questions.

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