The conventional wisdom is that we’re unlikely to see the full effect of the voter ID law until next year.
The true test of how voter ID will affect voters — and whether it will sway elections — won’t come next month after a special election in Edinburg.
And it might not even come this year.
That’s the assessment of at least one opposition leader, Chad Dunn, an attorney with Houston-based Brazil and Dunn who represents plaintiffs in a current lawsuit seeking to block the law. It requires voters to furnish one of several specified forms of ID before casting a ballot, the most common being a state-issued driver’s license or ID card.
It’s hard to determine the effect before next year’s state elections, Dunn added, because turnout for local elections is paltry. Elections have been held in Galveston and are ongoing in the Rio Grande Valley, but the true test will be a statewide or heavily contested election in a toss-up or majority-minority district.
“I don’t expect the law to be enjoined by the primary in March, or whenever it gets moved back because of redistricting,” Dunn said, linking voter ID and another volatile issue, the Legislature’s redistricting efforts, which are also tied up in litigation. The court battle makes it possible the primary elections could be delayed.
Also at play is how election officials handle complaints or missteps, Dunn said. In Bexar County, he said, officials are likely to resolve issues quickly regardless of political allegiance, race or any other factor. In others, not so much.
“In counties like Harris, which is completely on the voter suppression bandwagon, whatever problems there are, aren’t getting worked out,” he said.
I have some hope that new Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan will be more interested in the nuts and bolts aspect of his job and less interested in leading partisan warfare on voter registration than his predecessors were. You have to admit that the recent history of the county in regard to voting issues is not encouraging, however.
I do think that the upcoming city of Houston election will provide a test of the new law, assuming as noted that it hasn’t been enjoined; while the Justice Department has intervened in the litigation, so far no motion asking for an injunction has been filed. It’s not unreasonable to think that there could be 150,000 votes or more cast this year, vastly more than in Ediburg and that silly little Galveston election at which one local hack declared voter ID to have had no effect. The question is how to measure the effect. I can think of two things, one objective and one likely to be anecdotal at best. The objective way is to see how the number of provisional ballots compares to years past, especially the number of provisional ballots that get rejected. Remember, if you show up without an accepted form of ID, you can still cast a provisional ballot, but you have to show up later with a valid ID for it to be counted. Unfortunately, if there’s a publicly-viewable record of provisional ballots from past elections, I can’t find it. I know that data exists somewhere, and if there’s a spike in provisional ballots, that’s one indication that the law is having an effect. The anecdotal method is to collect stories from people who didn’t bother to vote or who decided to walk away rather than cast a provisional vote because they lacked the proper ID. I have no idea how to collect that kind of data, and to be honest I’d find it a little suspect if it were collected just by its very nature. But even if this can’t tell us much quantitatively, it has the potential to be a powerful kind of story anyway. We need to be talking to people and finding out what their experiences are. Whatever happens with the litigation and any potential legislative fixes from Congress, we can’t let what happens in the interim be overlooked or forgotten.