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It’s about the people who don’t have ID

We’ve had plenty of blue-sky stories telling us that the voter ID law has been no big deal. A few provisional ballots and some number of affidavits, sure, but everyone who’s wanted to vote has been able to vote, right? Sure, as long as they had one of the accepted forms of ID. But what about the people who don’t have them?

Gracie Sills is one such person. Here’s her story.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The “secondary identification” category is something the vast majority of Texans are virtually certain not to have two of.

As fortune would have it, my daughter Graciela Sills was born in Austin, Texas on Nov. 5, 1995. She thus became a 2013 voting baby, qualified by virtue of turning 18 on the very day of the first statewide election under the controversial Texas “voter ID” law.

Guided by a well-meaning Dad who participates in Texas politics as part of his living, my daughter’s first adult experience at a polling place was to get rejected.

It’s an off-year election, but Gracie was excited about getting her voice heard on constitutional amendments, local housing bonds and a special election in Texas House District 50. She also wanted to vote early for an arcane reason – to take advantage of a rare chance to start exercising the franchise legally at age 17.

In Texas, you can’t register to vote until you are within 60 days of your 18th birthday, so the window for registering in Gracie’s circumstances was as short as it gets. My boss, Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller, personally and with much delight handed Gracie the voter registration card that she used to mail in the application. The Secretary of State’s web site showed Gracie registered by early October, and a voter registration card arrived well ahead of early voting.

Like a growing number in her generation, Gracie decided to put off getting a driver license. Her reasoning: It takes a lot less road time to get the license after one turns 18. My suspicion: The idea of spending 30 or 40 hours being drilled on the fine points of three-point turns and parallel parks by her parents didn’t appeal to her. While the actuaries may have to take my daughter into account when setting auto insurance rates in the future, the relevant fact is that Gracie lacks the most common form of identification needed to vote.

We went to vote early as a family on Saturday, however, bringing Gracie’s passport instead, which we knew was a legitimate form of ID under the Texas “voter ID” law. To our horror, we discovered that unlike adult passports that last a decade, passports that are obtained by children when they are less than 16 are good only for five years. Gracie’s had expired in July.

My daughter didn’t have a valid photo ID for voting purposes. No driver license. No personal ID card from the Department of Public Safety. No U.S. citizenship certificate. No passport. No concealed handgun license. No military identification. The photo ID card from school was useless.

Gracie did eventually get one of the free DPS voter ID cards. Lots of Americans her age are deferring getting their drivers license. Driving is expensive, and in case you haven’t noticed the economy has been especially rough on the millennial set. Plus, a lot of them are more environmentally conscious than the rest of of us are, and would rather walk, bike, or take public transit. Why should anyone have to drive in order to vote? If the Lege had allowed student IDs to be used for voter ID, it would solve the problem for a lot of folks like Gracie. But they didn’t.

Older folks also have problems with voter ID, for the same reason – not having a drivers license. One such person is former Speaker Jim Wright.

Former House Speaker Jim Wright was denied a voter ID card Saturday at a Texas Department of Public Safety office.

“Nobody was ugly to us, but they insisted that they wouldn’t give me an ID,” Wright said.

The legendary Texas political figure says that he has worked things out with DPS and that he will get a state-issued personal identification card in time for him to vote Tuesday in the state and local elections.

But after the difficulty he had this weekend getting a proper ID card, Wright, 90, expressed concern that such problems could deter others from voting and stifle turnout. After spending much of his life fighting to make it easier to vote, the Democratic Party icon said he is troubled by what he’s seeing happen under the state’s new voter ID law.

“I earnestly hope these unduly stringent requirements on voters won’t dramatically reduce the number of people who vote,” Wright told the Star-Telegram. “I think they will reduce the number to some extent.”

Wright and his assistant, Norma Ritchson, went to the DPS office on Woodway Drive to get a State of Texas Election Identification Certificate. Wright said he realized earlier in the week that the photo identifications he had — a Texas driver’s license that expired in 2010 and a TCU faculty ID — do not satisfy requirements of the voter ID law, enacted in 2011 by the Legislature. DPS officials concurred.

But Wright and Ritchson will return to the office Monday with a certified copy of Wright’s birth certificate, which the DPS employees assured them would be good enough for the Texas personal identification card, designed specifically for people who do not drive.

Older folks often give up or don’t renew their drivers licenses when it becomes too difficult or expensive for them to drive. Unlike someone Gracie’s age, they do have the option of voting by mail, which doesn’t require ID. But a lot of these folks have been voting for fifty, sixty, seventy years, and voting to them means going to the ballot box and casting a vote in person, like they have always done. Why shouldn’t they be able to do this?

Now, both of these stories have happy endings. Gracie Sills and Jim Wright were able to get the IDs they needed in time to vote. Good thing they decided to vote early – if they’d started out today, like many people will, they would have had to cast a provisional ballot, then go through the bother of trekking to their election administrator’s office to make their votes count. They’re also both politically connected people – Gracie is the daughter of AFL-CIO Communications Director Ed Sills – who knew their rights and didn’t get discouraged along the way. How many people who are used to just showing up and voting won’t be so well placed? Maybe it won’t be that many today, but I bet it will be a lot more next year if this law is allowed to stand. All in the name of preventing something that basically never happens. Well, that’s the stated reason, anyway. We know what the real reason is. I feel confident saying that objective will be met.

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2 Comments

  1. byron schirmbeck says:

    Here was my experience this morning. I walked in and handed the young lady my TDL, she seemed very confused and asked if I had my voter registration card instead, I said “no” she took my drivers license and started looking for my name in the voter roll alphabetically by my first name not my last name. I waited for a few seconds to see if she would figure it out, she didn’t so I walked her over to the book with the S’s to get her started, I had to actually find the page for her as she was no where near my name in the book. OK not a huge deal I understand it is hard to get good folks working there, but the fact that she didn’t seem to want my photo ID was a little concerning since it is the law now.

    I also noticed that a gentleman came in behind me while I was dealing with this and I never saw him give his ID, he had a 8.5×11 folded piece of paper that he showed the clerk. To be fair I don’t know, maybe it was a copy of his license or a receipt for an ID or maybe he gave her his ID when I wasn’t looking but not having an ID didn’t seem to be an issue at my polling place. In fact I don’t see anywhere where the clerk has to sign saying they saw a photo ID. So how anyone knows that is actually being done is beyond me.

    I also don’t see what the problem is with names being a little different between the ID and voter rolls. My middle name is spelled different on my license than my voter registration for some odd reason. I noticed where my name was in the voter roll that there was a printed note that DPS has my middle name with a different spelling. So evidently there is a way for them to already know if there are slight differences in the name between DPS and the voter registration and tie them together I would imagine this would cut down on a certain amount of problems. I thought this was interesting because I have never heard anyone talk about it before when they discuss the issues of minor name differences and the new voter ID law. I think that should be mentioned.

  2. […] News has more on the suit; you can see a copy of it at the Observer. As I’ve been saying, the problem with voter ID is the effect it has on the hundreds of thousands of people in the state […]