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SOS to review motor voter complaints

I hope this amounts to more than lip service.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Texas Secretary of State has agreed to study why thousands of Texans have complained over the past year and a half that they had problems registering to vote despite a federal law that requires all states to offer voter registration in offices where citizens apply for a driver’s license.

The state began its review only after Battleground Texas, a nonprofit voter registration aligned with the Democratic Party, said it might take legal action on behalf of individual Texans who have claimed they were disenfranchised because voter applications filed at driver’s licensing offices were not promptly processed, according to correspondence the Houston Chronicle obtained through public information requests.

In all, 4,600 individuals complained online between September 2013 and February 2015 about processing issues they experienced at motor vehicle offices run by the Department of Public Safety, public records show.

“Texas is failing to comply with the law and voters are being disenfranchised,” Mimi Marziani, legal director of Battleground Texas, wrote in a letter to the state. The fact that so many Texas voters complained through a relatively obscure online “portal” provided by the state, she said, indicates that the problem is likely much more common.

Alicia Phillips Pierce, communications director for the Secretary of State, told the Chronicle the office “is committed to fully complying with all State and federal law, and to safeguarding the voting rights of all Texans.”

“Our office is currently investigating the allegations in Battleground Texas’ letter, and, accordingly, is not in a position at this time to confirm or deny any of the allegations or characterizations contained therein,” she added.

[…]

One of the most common complaints is that driver’s licensing employees failed to process voters’ requests to register. Only if that voter later complained online or by contacting a county election official would state officials review scanned files to determine whether an individual had checked “yes” on a voter application. If that “yes” was verified, the individual was then registered to vote.

Other voters got confused when trying to update their Texas addresses on a Department of Public Safety website, which they wrongly assumed would simultaneously update their driver’s license file and their voter registration record. In fact, the Texas Secretary of State does not allow Texas voters to update their voter registration addresses online. Voters must do that separately by printing out and mailing in a new application.

Battleground Texas has argued that both of those glitches in Texas’ motor voter process violate the National Voter Registration Act. “Under the NVRA, every time an eligible resident obtains, renews or updates his or her driver’s license with DPS, DPS must simultaneously register that person to vote or update that person’s voter registration file. … There is considerable evidence that (Texas) is violating these mandates on an ongoing and continuing basis,” Marziani of Battleground Texas wrote in her letter.

Good for BGTX for pursuing this. Registering voters is tricky enough in Texas, and there’s no help on the way from the Legislature. The least we can do is make sure the registrations we do get don’t get screwed up.

There’s still time for bad bills to be passed

Bad bill #1:

Never again

Never again

After four hours of debate and more than a dozen failed amendments offered by Democrats, the Senate on Monday gave preliminary approval to far-reaching restrictions on minors seeking abortions in Texas without parental consent.

On a 21-10 vote, the upper chamber signed off on House Bill 3994 by Republican state Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria to tighten the requirements on “judicial bypass,” the legal process that allows minors to get court approval for an abortion if seeking permission from their parents could endanger them.

The vote was along party lines with one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, joining Republicans to pass the measure.

[…]

After it reached the Senate, [Sen. Charles] Perry did some rewriting on HB 3994 to address two of the bill’s most controversial provisions on which both Democrats and some conservatives had raised concerns.

As expected, he gutted a provision that would have required all doctors to presume a pregnant woman seeking an abortion was a minor unless she could present a “valid government record of identification” to prove she was 18 or older.

The ID requirement — dubbed “abortion ID” by opponents — raised red flags because it would apply to all women in the state even though the bill focused on minors.

Under Perry’s new language, a physician must use “due diligence” to determine a woman’s identity and age, but could still perform the abortion if a woman could not provide an ID. Doctors would also have to report to the state how many abortions were performed annually without “proof of identity and age.”

Perry said the revised language “gives physician more latitude” to determine a woman’s age.

But Democratic state Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, who spoke in opposition to the bill and questioned Perry for almost an hour, questioned the ID requirement altogether.

“I can’t think of another instance where we presume women are children,” Watson said. “I certainly can’t think of any situation where we presume a man is a child.”

Perry also changed course on a provision that would have reversed current law such that if a judge does not rule on the bypass request within five days, the request is considered denied. Under current law, the bypass is presumed approved if a judge does not rule.

Perry cut that denial provision from the bill, saying it is now “silent” on the issue. But that did little to appease opponents who pointed out a judge’s failure to rule effectively denies the minor an abortion.

“In essence, the judge can bypass the judicial bypass by simply not ruling,” Watson said, adding that the appeals process is derailed without a denial by a judge.

HB 3994 also extends the time in which judges can rule on a judicial bypass case from two business days to five. Perry said this was meant to give judges more time and “clarity” to consider these cases.

But Democratic state Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston, who also offered several unsuccessful amendments, questioned whether Perry’s intentions were rooted in a distrust of women and judges.

“I’m not really sure who it is you don’t trust — the girls, the judges or the entire judicial system?” Garcia asked.

See here for the background. The Senate version is not quite as bad as the original House version that passed, but as Nonsequiteuse notes, it’s still a farce that does nothing but infantilize women. It’s a cliched analogy, but can anyone imagine a similar set of hoops for a man to jump through to get a vasectomy or a prescription for Viagra? The only people who will benefit from this bill are the lawyers that will be involved in the litigation over it. Oh, and Eddie Lucio sucks. Good Lord, he needs to be retired. TrailBlazers, the Observer, and Newsdesk have more.

Bad bill #2:

In a dramatic turn of events, the House Calendars Committee on Sunday night reversed course and sent a controversial bill prohibiting health insurance plans sold on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace from covering abortions to the full chamber for a vote.

Earlier in the night, the committee voted not to place Senate Bill 575 by Republican Sen. Larry Taylor on the lower chamber’s calendar for Tuesday — the last day a Senate bill can be passed by the House. After fireworks on the House floor instigated by a lawmaker who believed he had entered into an agreement to get the bill to the full chamber, the committee reconvened and reconsidered its vote.

Under SB 575, women seeking coverage for what Taylor has called “elective” abortions would have been required to purchase supplemental health insurance plans.

On Saturday, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, had threatened to force a House vote to prohibit abortions on the basis of fetal abnormalities by filing an amendment to an innocuous agency review bill. But Stickland later withdrew the amendment, telling the Austin American-Statesman that he had agreed to pull it down in exchange of a vow from House leadership that they would move SB 575 forward.

The bill did make it out of the House State Affairs Committee, chaired by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana. But when it got to Calendars, that committee voted it down, leading Stickland to go after Cook on the House floor. Stickland had to be separated from Cook, and House sergeants immediately ran over to prevent a lengthier tussle.

Again, infantilizing women. And speaking of infants, what more can be said about Jonathan Stickland? I know there’s a minimum age requirement to run for office. Maybe there needs to be a minimum maturity requirement as well. Hey, if we can force doctors to assume that women seeking abortions are children, we can assume that any first-time filer for office is a callow jerk. We sure wouldn’t have been wrong in this case.

Bad bill #3:

Senate Republicans on Monday voted to move the state’s Public Integrity Unit out of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. The action was spurred in part by last year’s indictment of former Gov. Rick Perry.

The legislation by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, would move key decisions about investigating public officials to the Texas Rangers and away from the Democratic-controlled Travis County District Attorney.

The bill was approved in a 20-11 vote, with Democrats casting all the no votes.

[…]

Under the proposed law, any district attorney looking at suspicious activity by a state official would refer the matter to new Public Integrity Unit within the Texas Rangers. That office would then use a Texas Ranger to further investigate the allegation, with expenses handled by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

If confirmed, the recommendation for further action would be sent to the district attorney in the home county of the public official. That district attorney could pursue or drop the investigation.

See here for the background. As I said before, I don’t think this is the worst bill ever, but I do think it’s a guarantee that some future scandal will result from this. And as others have pointed out, it sets up legislators to be treated differently than every other Texan in this sort of situation. That’s never a good precedent to set.

And finally, bad bill #4:

Gays and same-sex couples could be turned away from adopting children or serving as foster parents under an amendment filed by a social conservative House member and expected to be heard Tuesday.

The measure also would allow child welfare providers to deny teenagers in foster care access to contraception or an abortion under a wide umbrella of religious protections for the state contractor.

Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, has filed the measure that gives state contractors for child welfare services the right to sue the state if they are punished for making decisions based on their religious beliefs.

The state could not force contractors to follow policies providing for contraception or allowing same-sex couples to adopt, for instance. If the state tried to terminate a contract or suspend licensing for the state contractors’ failure to abide by such polices, the contractor could sue, win compensatory damages, relief from the policy and attorneys fees against the state, according to the proposal.

Sanford tried to pass as separate bill earlier in the session, but it failed. The proposal now has resurfaced as an amendment to the sunset bill that would reconstitute the Department of Family and Protective Services.

I’m just going to hand this one off to Equality Texas:

TUESDAY, MAY 26TH, Rep. Scott Sanford will try again to pass an amendment allowing child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBT families

Tell your State Representative to oppose the Sanford amendment permitting discrimination in Texas’ child welfare system.

Rep. Scott Sanford has pre-filed an amendment that he will seek to add to SB 206 on Tuesday, May 26th. This cynical “religious refusal” amendment would authorize all child welfare organizations to refuse to place a child with a qualified family just because that family doesn’t meet the organization’s religious or moral criteria.

If enacted into law, the Sanford Amendment would allow child welfare providers to discriminate against not just gay and transgender families, but also against people of other faiths, interfaith couples and anyone else to whom a provider objects for religious reasons.

The only consideration of a child welfare agency should be the best interest of the child – not proselytizing for a single, narrow religious interpretation.

SB 206 is not objectionable. However, adding the Sanford Amendment to SB 206 must be prevented.

Urge your State Representative to OPPOSE the Sanford Amendment to SB 206.

Amen to that.

Senate belatedly addresses one voter ID concern

Better really late and at least mildly coerced than never, I guess.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Texas Senate, with scant attention during an early morning vote, gave its unanimous answer to a lingering question the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals posed about the state’s embattled voter ID law.

Among the first votes taken by the chamber on Monday was on Senate Bill 983, a measure sponsored by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Harris County Republican, that would allow Texans to show up at their county clerk’s office and get a free copy of their birth certificate – if they say it will be used to get an election ID certificate. The bill won approval, 31-0.

That response came after hard-line questioning from Judge Catharina Haynes, an appellate jurist who will be part of a team that will rule on the constitutionality of Texas’s voter ID law, which has earned national scrutiny and already made it to the U.S. Supreme Court once.

“They’re meeting right now. They had that opportunity. What are they doing?” said Haynes, an appointee of former President George W. Bush’s, during an April hearing. “Why wouldn’t the legislative system fix the rules? Why should we fix the rules?”

More than 600,000 Texans lack the proper identification to vote under the state’s relatively new voting laws, among the most stringent in the nation. Most people (some exceptions can be made for Texans with disabilities) must show one of the following: a driver’s license or ID card (though a student ID card won’t do), a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card or a U.S. citizenship certificate with a photo. For the record, other states have more qualifying document options available to its eligible voters.

Texans who don’t have any of that, however, must request what’s called an “election identification certificate” to cast a ballot – but wait, there’s more. You have to show a birth certificate, which costs between $2 to $47, in order to obtain said election ID certificate.

That’s where SB 983 comes in. The Senate effectively has told the court that, under this proposal, the state would allow a person to get one free copy of their birth certificate to prove their citizenship, and thus get an election ID certificate.

See here and here for the background. It’s a baby step in the direction of making this law less onerous, though it does nothing to help anyone who doesn’t have a birth certificate (quite a few people who were born at home don’t) or who were born in another state (insert your own “long-form Hawaiian birth certificate” joke here). For sure, the only reason the Senate took this up is because of what Justice Haynes said, so just like someone who only buys a birthday present when reminded of the need and told exactly what to get, it’s hard to say how much credit they deserve for initiative. It also doesn’t address the issue of discriminatory intent, which is a whole ‘nother ball game. If the Republicans wanted to make a sincere effort to show that they didn’t mean to disenfranchise anyone, they could 1) allow out of state drivers licenses and student IDs to be used, and 2) spend some real money on an outreach program to provide election ID certificates to those who need them. Until then, you’ll forgive me if I view this with a helping dollop of cynicism.

Bill filing deadline has passed

Believe it or not, we are almost halfway through the legislative session, and we have now passed the point where new bills can be filed.

130114152903-abc-schoolhouse-rock-just-a-bill-story-top

Racing to beat a deadline for filing bills, state lawmakers on Friday submitted hundreds of measures on everything from abolishing the death penalty to the licensing of auctioneers.

By the time the dust settled, 928 bills had been filed in the state House and Senate on Friday, setting the chambers up for a busy second half of the legislative session.

“Now, it’s game on,” longtime lobbyist Bill Miller said.

In all, some 8,000 measures are now before the 84th Legislature, including 4,114 House bills, 1,993 Senate bills and 1,771 resolutions.

[…]

The most high-profile bill filed Friday was an ethics reform package supported by Gov. Greg Abbott that long had been expected to be submitted by Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano. Abbott had declared ethics reform a legislative emergency item during his State of the State address last month.

Taylor’s proposal, known as Senate Bill 19 and also backed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, would require state officials to disclose contracts with governmental entities, prohibit lawmakers from serving as bond counsel for local and state governments and make departing legislators and statewide elected officials wait one legislative session before becoming lobbyists.

“There is no more valuable bond in democracy than the trust the people have with their government,” Taylor said in a statement. “The common-sense ethics reform outlined in Senate Bill 19 will strengthen that bond and send a clear message to the people of Texas that there is no place in government for those who betray the trust given to them by the voters.”

Tax policy also was a common theme, with [Rep. Dennis] Bonnen submitting his hotly anticipated proposal to cut business and sales taxes.

The Senate, which in some ways has been moving faster than the House, already has debated several tax proposals, and the issue is expected to be a priority focus of the session.

The Trib highlights a few bills of interest.

— House Ways and Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, filed his long-awaited proposals to cut the rates for both the margins tax paid by businesses and the broader state sales tax. The margins tax bill, House Bill 32, is identical to one filed by Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. The measures should draw the House more into the tax cut debate this session, which until now has been focused more on the Senate, where Nelson has already held hearings on some high-profile measures.

— Several measures filed Friday aimed at allowing Texas to change its approach to immigration, even as broader proposals stall in Washington.

House Bill 3735 by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, seeks to establish a partnership with the federal government to establish a guest-worker program to bring skilled and unskilled labor to Texas.

House Bill 3301 by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, would recognize undocumented Texans as “citizens” of the state. It would allow them to apply for driver’s licenses, occupational licenses and state IDs if they meet certain residency criteria and are can verify their identity.

“It also opens the door for future conversations about the very real fact that these Texans without status are here, they are not leaving, and we should be doing everything we can to help them find employment, housing and opportunity,” said Laura Stromberg Hoke, Rodriguez’s chief of staff.

— House Bill 3401 by state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, seeks to establish an interstate compact between interested states for the detection, apprehension and prosecution of undocumented immigrants.

— Looking to add restrictions on abortion, state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, filed House Bill 3765 to beef up the state’s informed consent laws when it comes to minors. Texas law already requires patients seeking an abortion to go through the informed consent process, but Laubenberg’s bill would require notarized consent from a minor and a minor’s parent before an abortion is performed.

— House Bill 3785 from Rep. Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso, would permit patients with cancer, seizure disorders, PTSD and other conditions to medical marijuana. The measure is broader than other bills filed this session that would only allow low-level THC oils to be used on intractable seizure patients.

— The National Security Agency might have some trouble in Texas if Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, gets his way. House Bill 3916 would make it illegal for any public entities to provide water or electric utility services to NSA data collection centers in the state.

— State Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur, filed a pair of measures, House Bill 3839 and House Joint Resolution 142, which would ask voters to approve the creation of as many as nine casinos. Under Deshotel’s plan, most of the casinos would be built near the Texas coast, and a large portion of the tax revenue would go toward shoring up the troubled Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the insurer of last resort for coastal Texans.

— In an effort to pave the way for a Medicaid expansion solution that would get the support of conservatives, state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, filed House Bill 3845 to request a block grant from the federal government to reform the program and expand health care coverage for low-income Texans. Though GOP leaders have said they won’t expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, they’ve asked the feds for more flexibility to administer the program. Coleman’s proposal, titled the “The Texas Way,” intends to give the state more wiggle room while still drawing some Republican support.

Here’s a Statesman story about the casino bills. There’s been a distinct lack of noise around gambling expansion this session, which is change from other recent sessions. I suspect Rep. Deshotel’s proposals will go the way of those previous ones, but at least there’s a new angle this time.

Here’s a press release from Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) in favor of the medical marijuana bill from Rep. Marquez; there is a not-yet-numbered companion bill to HB3785 in the Senate, filed by Sen. Jose Menendez, as well. Two other, more limited, medical marijuana bills, the so-called “Texas Compassionate Use Act”, were filed in February. I don’t know which, if any, will have a chance of passage. I will note that RAMP has been admirably bipartisan in its praise of bills that loosen marijuana laws. Kudos to them for that.

If you’re annoyed at Jodie Laubenberg going after reproductive choice again, it might help a little to know that Rep. Jessica Farrar filed HB 3966 to require some accountability for so-called “crisis pregnancy centers’. Her press release is here.

I am particularly interested in Rep. Coleman’s “Texas Way” Medicaid expansion bill. (A companion bill, SB 1039, was filed by Sen. Jose Rodriguez.) I have long considered “block grant” to be dirty words in connection with Medicaid, so to say the least I was a little surprised to receive Rep. Coleman’s press release. I have complete faith in Rep. Coleman, so I’m sure this bill will move things in the direction he’s been pushing all along, but at this point I don’t understand the details well enough to explain what makes this bill different from earlier block grant proposals. I’ve sent an email to his office asking for more information. In the meantime, you can read Sen. Rodriguez’s press release and this Legislative Study Group coverage expansion policy paper for more.

Finally, one more bill worth highlighting:

The proposal introduced by out lesbian Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) would prohibit mental health providers in Texas from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of people under 18. Those who violate the law would face disciplinary action from state licensing boards.

Israel acknowledged that House Bill 3495 has little chance of passing the Republican-dominated Legislature, and it wouldn’t apply to faith-based practitioners, but she said it’s an important response to the Texas GOP’s 2014 platform plank endorsing reparative therapy.

“I don’t think that they recognize how hurtful these kinds of things can be,” Israel told the Observer. “To suggest that some young kid that happens to be gay is less than normal is very hurtful and harmful and dangerous, and I think I put myself back in those years when I was first discovering who I was. … I felt strongly about introducing a bill that was a counter to that, to say, ‘We don’t need fixing. We just need your love.’”

Virtually all of the major medical and mental health organizations have come out against reparative therapy, from the American Psychological Association to the American Medical Association and the American Counseling Association.

I agree that this bill isn’t going anywhere, but as I’ve been saying, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have been filed. Good on Rep. Israel for doing what’s right. Equality Texas has more.

A better way to cut taxes

Grits has a suggestion for the Legislature.

go_to_jail

Reduce local jail costs – which have been a big driver of tax increases in many Texas counties – by reducing penalty categories for low-level marijuana possession (currently a Class B misdemeanor for possession of two ounces or less) and driving with an invalid license (DWLI, currently a Class B misdemeanor on the second offense). Make those two offenses a Class C or even a civil violation and local governments, especially counties, would save money a) by writing tickets instead of jailing people, b) from the fact that attorneys aren’t appointed for the indigent in Class C cases, and c) by keeping more officers, both sheriffs deputies and municipal PDs, out on patrol instead of at the jail arresting pot smokers and drivers who couldn’t pay the Driver Responsibility surcharge.

Texas already started down this road, reducing first offense DWLI from a Class B to a Class C in 2007 after the Driver Responsibility surcharge flooded county courts in the first years after its passage. The same year, the Lege passed and Gov. Perry signed legislation to allow local police departments to write tickets instead of make arrests for DWLI, marijuana possession, and several other petty Class B offenses. Only a few agencies took the Lege up on that optional authority, though, and county jails and court dockets remain stuffed with these low-level, non-violent offenders. So reducing penalties for those two Class Bs is a logical next step, as the House County Affairs discussed during an interim committee hearing on the topic earlier this year.

Unlike the feds, Texas’ budget must balance. Any claim to cut taxes will prove a mare’s nest without a correspondent reduction in spending in a long-term sustainable way. That’s why property-tax relief through the school districts can’t be certain in light of the surely soon-to-be-coming court verdict on school finance. The state has little wiggle room to spend less on healthcare. And pols have promised to spend more, not less, on transportation. After baseline reductions in 2003 and 2011, there’s not a lot of fat left to cut, particularly that would impact property taxes.

By changing state policies to reduce county jail costs, the 84th Legislature could deliver real, not just temporary or superficial, local property-tax relief, cutting costs on a big-ticket item that affects every Texas county. I can’t think of a quicker, more certain way the Lege could reduce upward pressure on local property taxes given the practical constraints imposed by law and politics on the state budget.

See here for the context, and remember that “balancing” the budget is one part rhetoric, one part prestidigitation, and about five parts hot air. As sensible as this is, and as much as it would deliver benefits beyond a reduction in costs to counties, the main obstacle this would face is that it’s not immediate gratification. Lop ten points off the tax rate and you can say “See! I cut your taxes!” Do this and you have to wait and see what all the county commissioners do, and if/when they do cut taxes as a result of the savings, they’ll claim the credit for it themselves. I completely agree with Grits’ idea here, and I think in the abstract a lot of legislators would, too. What I don’t think they would do is see this as “tax relief” in any meaningful way. The people who are talking about that want something they can point to and take all the credit for.

The privilege of voting

It’s not a right if you aren’t allowed to do it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A day before Texans go to the polls, an unusual group gathered for lunch at a Mexican restaurant not far from downtown: an unemployed African-American grandmother; a University of Houston student originally from Pennsylvania; a pregnant mother who had recently moved back to the area with her family; and a low-income white woman who struggled to make eye contact and kept her money in a pack strapped around her waist.

They had not met each other before, but they had one thing in common: Thanks to Texas’s strict voter ID law, they all faced massive hurdles in casting a vote. Over fish tacos and guacamole, they shared their stories—hesitantly at first, then with growing eagerness as they realized they weren’t alone in being victimized by their state.

Lindsay Gonzales, 36, has an out-of-state driver’s license, which isn’t accepted under the ID law. Despite trying for months, she has been unable to navigate an astonishing bureaucratic thicket in time to get a Texas license she can use to vote. “I’m still a little bit in shock,” said Gonzales, who is white, well-educated, and politically engaged. “Because of all those barriers, the side effect is that I don’t get to participate in the democratic process. That’s something I care deeply about and I’m not going to be able to do it.”

As Texas prepares for its first high-turnout election with the voter ID law in place, the state has scrambled to reassure residents that it’s being proactive in getting IDs to those who need them, and that few voters will ultimately be disenfranchised. But those claims are belied by continued reports of legitimate Texans who, despite often Herculean efforts, still lack the identification required to exercise their most fundamental democratic right.

There’s a depressingly long list of people who have been disenfranchised by Texas’ law at the end of the article. Not theoretical possibilities, real people who were not allowed to vote. There are more and more of these stories out there as well. I’d love for Greg Abbott and Rick Perry and the six Supreme Court justices who thought letting this election proceed with that law in place despite its documented effects to have to look each one of these people in the eye and explain to them why this was necessary. Because the law is working as intended. What happened to these people was a feature, not a bug.

But they could have gotten free election IDs, I hear you say. Maybe, if they knew about that under-publicized option. And if they were able to navigate the bureaucracy successfully and pay their poll tax at the end.

Every document Casper Pryor could think of that bore his name was folded in the back pocket of his jeans. But sitting on a curb Thursday, a can of Sprite in hand, Pryor wasn’t sure whether those papers and the hour-long bus ride he had taken to get to Holman Street would result in a crucial new piece of ID. An ID that would allow the 33-year-old Houston native to vote.

Election identification certificates were designed for the 600,000 to 750,000 voters who lack any of the six officially recognized forms of photo ID needed at the polls, according to estimates developed by the Texas secretary of state and the U.S. Department of Justice. Legislators created the EICs, which are free, in part to quell criticism that enforcing the state’s much-litigated ID law amounted to a poll tax that could disenfranchise low-income and minority voters.

But as of Thursday, only 371 EICs had been issued across Texas since June 2013. By comparison, Georgia issued 2,182 free voter ID cards during its first year enforcing a voter ID law in 2006, and Mississippi has issued 2,539 in the 10 months its new law has been in place. Both states accept more forms of photo identification at polls than Texas does, so fewer voters there would need to apply for election-specific IDs.

In Texas, some would-be voters are hitting roadblocks.

Pryor said he has been spending more than four hours each trip trying to obtain an EIC, and he’s been back and forth several times. Though the cards are free, there are transportation costs and fees for supporting documents.

“It turned into a full-time job,” he said. “Going here, going there, it’ll make you give up.”

[…]

Some voters decided to pursue a Texas state ID card instead of an EIC. The requirements are similar, but the state ID can be used for more purposes than elections.

Money factors in the decision.

Applying for a Texas state ID costs $16, and if an individual does not have a birth certificate, getting that costs another $22. For those who want an EIC, a birth certificate can be obtained for a discounted price of no more than $3.

Another difference: EICs do not require a background check, while a Texas state ID does. For low-income applicants concerned about unpaid traffic tickets, that can be enough to decide on an EIC, said Marianela Acuña Arreaza, the Texas coordinator of VoteRiders, a nonpartisan nonprofit helping eligible voters cast ballots and not engaged in the ongoing litigation.

“Voting is not a luxury item,” Acuña Arreaza said. “It should be something you should be able to do because you’re a citizen and you’re eligible.”

[…]

Abbie Kamin, through the Campaign Legal Center, has been working with people who want to vote at the polls, sometimes driving an hour out of the city to obtain a birth certificate and accompanying them for lengthy waits in DPS offices. The center’s executive director was an attorney for the plaintiffs in the voter ID case, but Kamin’s work is ground-level. Beyond the transportation hurdles and costs for some voters lacking ID, there has been confusion among agencies and individual clerks, she said.

“I’ve had another woman working with me who called the DPS three different times and gotten three different answers,” Kamin said.

During a federal court trial that concluded in Corpus Christi in September, the judge found that the DPS process for granting EICs lacked consistency.

When asked if any training had since been provided, DPS spokesman Vinger responded, “No.”

Training costs money, don’t you know. Greg Abbott wants to take the gas tax money that currently goes to DPS and use it for road building. That means DPS will have to compete with other budget items to get general fund money. What do you think are the odds that extra funds for EIC training would be included in that?

The good news is that Casper Pryor did eventually win the game of running the DPS gamut, and in the end he got his EIC, making him one of the lucky few to do so. One wonders what the reaction would be if a random sampling of voter ID supporters had to go through what he went through to get to do what they take for granted. To end this post on a positive note, here’s another story about people who worked a lot harder to be able to vote than you and I did.

April Fisher walked into a brightly lit, flag-adorned room at the Harris County Administration Building on Wednesday and, for the first time in her life, contemplated a ballot.

“I’ve never voted in my life,” the 30-year-old Louisiana native said with a shrug. “I don’t even understand politics.”

Fisher came to Houston five years ago after her father gambled away their family’s life savings. The choices she made here ended in addiction, prostitution and criminal convictions.

But on this day, with her life on the mend, Fisher found the name of the judge who heard her most recent prostitution charge, a woman she credits with helping get her life back on track. She tapped the voting machine’s selector dial. It felt good.

In a booth next to her was the kind of authority figure who had been an adversary in Fisher’s past life – a sheriff’s deputy.

“I was proud to stand next to that deputy and he didn’t put handcuffs on me,” she said.

Fisher walked out of the downtown building and into a balmy fall day minutes later.

“I feel like my voice was being heard,” she said, before lighting up a cigarette.

A precious right for many Texans, voting for Fisher and a group of about 15 women – recovering drug addicts, former sex workers and others – was about something more: finding their voice.

They were enrolled in (or have graduated from) the “We’ve Been There Done That,” a program run through the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, which seeks to rehabilitate women and help them avoid returning to their criminal past.

“These women have never been empowered, have been victims of sex abuse, of abuse, of imprisonment,” said Jennifer Herring, director of re-entry services for the Sheriff’s Office. “Now, for them to be able to seek for themselves a voice through this voting process, it’s liberating.”

Read the whole thing. No matter how you feel today about the election, I trust that story made you feel a little better.

What they didn’t tell us about voter ID

Republicans knew fully well that their voter ID bill would disenfranchise a lot of people. They just didn’t care.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Republican state officials working to pass a voter photo ID law in 2011 knew that more than 500,000 of the state’s registered voters did not have the credentials needed to cast ballots under the new requirement. But they did not share that information with lawmakers rushing to pass the legislation.

Now that the bill is law, in-person voters must present one of seven specified forms of photo identification in order to have their votes counted.

A federal judge in Corpus Christi has found the law unconstitutional, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the state can leave it in place for the November election while appeals proceed.

The details about the number of voters affected emerged during the challenge to the law, and were included in the findings of U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos.

During the 2011 legislative struggle to pass the voter ID law, she wrote, Republican lawmakers asked the Texas secretary of state, who runs elections, and the Texas Department of Public Safety, which maintains driver’s license information, for the number of registered voters who did not have state-issued photo identification.

The answer: at least a half-million.

There was evidence, the judge wrote, that Sen. Tommy Williams asked the Texas Department of Public Safety to compare its ID databases with the list of registered voters to find out how many people would not have the most common of the photo IDs required by the law. No match was done to see how many people did not have other acceptable IDs. “That database match was performed by the SOS, but the results showing 504,000 to 844,000 voters being without Texas photo ID were not released to the Legislature.”

Gonzales Ramos sourced that finding in a footnote, noting that in a deposition, Williams, a Republican from The Woodlands who has since left the state Senate, said he requested that information and then did not share it with fellow lawmakers.

Clearly, that was too inconvenient to share. Look, the Republicans could have passed a voter ID bill with broad bipartisan support if they had addressed two issues. One was the other facets of ballot integrity that they left out, like better procedures for mail ballots and improvements to electronic voting machines, like what Travis County is pursuing on its own. The other was taking real steps to ensure that everyone could still vote, by allowing more forms of ID, funding a real outreach program to those half-million-plus people, maybe making it easier to register to vote. One could argue that if you have to show a valid photo ID to vote, there’s no point in also requiring a voter registration card, for example. But of course they didn’t do any of that since the whole point of this law was to make it harder to vote, especially for certain classes of people. Repblicans across the country are perfectly willing to disenfranchise people in pursuit of their vision of “ballot integrity”. It’s a feature, not a bug, and they were called out for it by Judge Ramos. Only a deeply flawed ruling by SCOTUS has saved them for now. But we know the truth. It’s right there in the ruling.

It shouldn’t be this hard to get a driver’s license

And for most people it isn’t that hard. But for some people, it is.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Daniela Parker has two mothers, a circumstance that turned a typically routine matter – scheduling a road test for a Texas driver’s license – into a lengthy hassle.

Parker, Mayor Annise Parker’s daughter, was turned away from taking the road test on Thursday because, according to the mayor, there are inconsistencies on her personal identification documents.

In a tweet, the mayor said that in some documents she is listed as the girl’s mother, while in others Annise Parker’s wife, Kathy Hubbard, is listed as the mother. They adopted Daniela and younger sister Marquitta in 2003. Parker and Hubbard married earlier this year in California.

Two previous trips by Daniela to the Department of Public Safety were unsuccessful. A third trip Friday to the Rosenberg office did the trick.

“I’m just glad that on the third try someone cared enough to sort it out,” Parker said.

According to the Texas DPS website, information on documents used to verify identity must match. If, say, a name is different, the person must provide documents proving a legal name change.

As Hair Balls notes, getting a driver’s license has also proven a challenge for Connie Wilson, the California transplant who took her wife’s name when they got married out there. DPS did not recognize her California marriage license as being valid and thus turned her away because her legal name doesn’t match what is on her birth certificate. I don’t want to be too harsh on DPS here, as they are implementing the rules they have been given. The issue is that the rules are wrong and need to be changed, because Daniela Parker and Connie Wilson and everyone else in a similar situation deserves better. They deserve to be treated the same way I would be. I will never understand the reasons why anyone would disagree with that. I very much look forward to the day when stuff like this never happens again. Lone Star Q has more.

Texas woman denied driver’s license over same-sex marriage

That’s the headline of this Observer story, and it’s just as infuriating as you think it is.

A woman who recently relocated from California says the Texas Department of Public Safety refused to issue her an accurate driver’s license because her last name was changed through a same-sex marriage.

After Connie Wilson married her partner of nine years in California last year, she took her wife’s last name, Wilson, which now appears on both her California driver’s license and her Social Security card, in addition to all of the couple’s financial and medical records.

This summer, the couple relocated to the Houston area with their three children for work. With her California driver’s license nearing expiration, Wilson took her documents to a DPS office in Katy last week to obtain a Texas driver’s license. When a DPS employee noticed that Wilson’s name didn’t match her birth certificate, she produced the couple’s California marriage license identifying her spouse as Aimee Wilson.

“Her only words to me were, ‘Is this same-[sex]?’” Connie Wilson recalled. “I remember hesitating for probably 10 seconds. I didn’t know how to answer. I didn’t want to lie, but I knew I was in trouble because I wasn’t going to be able to get a license.”

Wilson eventually responded that although California doesn’t differentiate, she happened to be married to a woman.
“She immediately told me, ‘You can’t use this to get your license. This doesn’t validate your last name. Do you have anything else?’” Wilson said. “She told me I would never get a license with my current name, that the name doesn’t belong to me.”

Texas has both a state statute and a constitutional amendment prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages from other states. However, Wilson contends she isn’t asking DPS to recognize her marriage, but rather trying to obtain an accurate driver’s license reflecting her legal name according to the state of California and the U.S. government.

“I’ve been deprived the freedom to drive a vehicle once my current California driver’s license expires,” Wilson said. “I’m further being deprived the freedom to use air travel, make purchases that require a valid photo identification, seek medical attention for myself or my children, as well as other situations that would require proving who I am legally as an individual.”

You can add “the right to vote” to that list, since Wilson’s California driver’s license is not an acceptable form of ID for voting purposes. This is apparently DPS policy. Wilson could seek a court order for her name change, but that costs hundreds of dollars and can take weeks, and why should she have to do that? Her name has already been legally changed, it’s just that Texas mulishly refuses to recognize it. We’re all waiting for the Supreme Court to knock this foolishness down, but every single day that Greg Abbott and the reactionary worldview he’s representing fight this is a day that people like Connie Wilson and her family suffer needless harm. Equality Texas and Sen. Sylvia Garcia are working on Wilson’s behalf in this matter, but this is all so unnecessary. There’s no public policy rationale to justify this. Change cannot come fast enough.

Once again, voter fraud by impersonation just doesn’t exist

From the Washington Post:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Election fraud happens. But ID laws are not aimed at the fraud you’ll actually hear about. Most current ID laws (Wisconsin is a rare exception) aren’t designed to stop fraud with absentee ballots (indeed, laws requiring ID at the polls push more people into the absentee system, where there are plenty of real dangers). Or vote buying. Or coercion. Or fake registration forms. Or voting from the wrong address. Or ballot box stuffing by officials in on the scam. In the 243-page document that Mississippi State Sen. Chris McDaniel filed on Monday with evidence of allegedly illegal votes in the Mississippi Republican primary, there were no allegations of the kind of fraud that ID can stop.

Instead, requirements to show ID at the polls are designed for pretty much one thing: people showing up at the polls pretending to be somebody else in order to each cast one incremental fake ballot. This is a slow, clunky way to steal an election. Which is why it rarely happens.

I’ve been tracking allegations of fraud for years now, including the fraud ID laws are designed to stop. In 2008, when the Supreme Court weighed in on voter ID, I looked at every single allegation put before the Court. And since then, I’ve been following reports wherever they crop up.

To be clear, I’m not just talking about prosecutions. I track any specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix.

So far, I’ve found about 31 different incidents (some of which involve multiple ballots) since 2000, anywhere in the country. If you want to check my work, you can read a comprehensive list of the incidents below.

To put this in perspective, the 31 incidents below come in the context of general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014. In general and primary elections alone, more than 1 billion ballots were cast in that period.

Some of these 31 incidents have been thoroughly investigated (including some prosecutions). But many have not. Based on how other claims have turned out, I’d bet that some of the 31 will end up debunked: a problem with matching people from one big computer list to another, or a data entry error, or confusion between two different people with the same name, or someone signing in on the wrong line of a pollbook.

In just four states that have held just a few elections under the harshest ID laws, more than 3,000 votes (in general elections alone) have reportedly been affirmatively rejected for lack of ID. (That doesn’t include voters without ID who didn’t show up, or recordkeeping mistakes by officials.) Some of those 3,000 may have been fraudulent ballots. But how many legitimate voters have already been turned away?

So that’s at most two possibly fraudulent ballots per year nationwide that voter ID laws might have helped prevent. See why people say voter ID is a “solution” in search of a problem? The goal of voter ID legislation is to make it harder to vote, period. If we were really interested in protecting the integrity of the ballot, there are much bigger targets to aim for and much broader reforms that could be made, but these would cost money and not have a disproportionate effect on people who tend to vote Democratic. That’s all there is to it. Kevin Drum has more.

Students against voter ID

A new front is opened in the fight against voter ID.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Civil rights groups have spent a decade fighting requirements that voters show photo identification, arguing that this discriminates against African-Americans, Hispanics and the poor. This week in a North Carolina courtroom, another group will make its case that such laws are discriminatory: college students.

Joining a challenge to a state law alongside the N.A.A.C.P., the American Civil Liberties Union and the Justice Department, lawyers for seven college students and three voter-registration advocates are making the novel constitutional argument that the law violates the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18 from 21. The amendment also declares that the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age.”

There has never been a case like it, and if the students succeed, it will open another front in what has become a highly partisan battle over voting rights.

Over the past decade, Republicans have campaigned to tighten rules for voters, including requirements for photo ID, in the name of preventing fraud. Democrats have countered that the real purpose of those laws is to make voting more difficult for people who are likely to vote Democratic.

“There’s an unprecedented effort nationally by Republican-controlled legislatures to restrict the franchise in a way we haven’t seen in a long time,” said Marc Elias, the Democratic election lawyer bringing the age-discrimination claim. “Young voting in particular is a part of that effort.”

Proposals to change voting rules have frequently affected younger voters, particularly college students.

[…]

Multiple lawsuits against North Carolina, including the age-discrimination case, have been combined into one. A hearing on Monday is over whether to delay the law until a judge decides whether it is constitutional.

Lawyers for the students believe they can make the case that the law is intentionally discriminatory. As proof of this intent, they note that the state prohibited the Division of Motor Vehicles from registering 17-year-olds who will turn 18 by Election Day this fall. All other eligible voters could register there. In court documents filed in late June, the state said it had reversed that policy but did not say why.

The lawyers also point to the state’s decision to allow military and veteran identification cards, but not student IDs, as “strong evidence that the legislature wanted to make it difficult for young citizens to vote.”

Lawyers for North Carolina argue that the state’s voting law is neither discriminatory nor an impediment to voting. They note that most of the law’s provisions have taken effect, and state election data showed no decline in minority turnout in the recent primary.

“One way of maintaining confidence in elections is to ensure that only those who are qualified to vote are actually registered to vote,” the state’s lawyers wrote in court documents. They did not address the 26th Amendment claim, and a phone call seeking comment on it was not returned.

While courts have held that refusing to register students is as unlawful as refusing to register African-Americans, they have never been asked to address allegations of more subtle age discrimination, like those charged in North Carolina.

“If that’s a winning claim, that’s a big deal,” said Edward B. Foley, an Ohio State University law professor who runs the school’s election law center. But, he said, “there is a big ‘if’ here.”

See the Charlotte Observer and the Washington Post for more. North Carolina’s law, like the one in Texas, does not consider student IDs or out-of-state drivers licenses to be valid for voter ID purposes. You can see how that might have a disproportionate effect against college students. The arguments this week are about whether to grant an injunction blocking the law for now, with the full trial to take place in 2015. Definitely worth keeping an eye on this one. Via the Texas Election Law blog, and read Ari Berman for more.

Saturday mini-link roundup

Three stories you should read that I didn’t have time to devote a full post to:

AusChron: Abbott’s abject CPRIT failures

Still not Greg Abbott

The scandal broke after letters between the agency’s chief science officer, Nobel laureate Dr. Alfred Gilman, and CPRIT’s Chief Commercialization Officer Jerry Cobbs were released, in which Gilman repeatedly questioned the ethics of multiple grants, while Cobbs shot down his criticisms. Gilman finally resigned in protest over $20 million to local research incubator groups, and he was quickly followed by a slew of top-ranked researchers from bodies including the Harvard and Stanford medical schools, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. By contrast, Cobbs is currently under indictment in Travis County for the first-degree felony of securing execution of a document by deception, regarding the granting of $11 million to Peloton Therapeutics Inc. In January 2013, CPRIT was subject to a damning report by Texas State Auditor John Keel, advising that it revamp every stage of the grant process, from evaluation to research progress, after which lawmakers effectively shut it down, and opened back up with increased controls and oversight.

Arguably, oversight was what was missing in the first place. It was supposed to be there, and Abbott was supposed to be providing it. From its inception, CPRIT had an oversight committee, which included both the attorney general and Comptroller Susan Combs. However, out of 23 committee meetings between June 23, 2008, and Feb 25, 2013, Abbott attended exactly zero. Abbott’s campaign spokesman Matt Hirsch has since said that he removed himself, rather than face conflicts of interest. However, rather than stepping down completely, he sent designees from his office: Then-Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel Andrew Weber attended the first meeting, then the task was handed over to Deputy Attorney General for Government and External Affairs Jay Dyer, who would himself miss several meetings in the following four years. Hopefully, they were giving Abbott extensive notes, because he did not seem to be that inquisitive. The Dallas Morning News found that in his five years on the committee, Abbott sent a grand total of nine emails to “key state officials” on CPRIT’s problems.

So what was keeping Abbott so distracted? Democratic pressure group the Lone Star Project went through Abbott’s diary and compared his calendar with the committee’s schedule, and found that on 10 of the 23 meeting days, he had no official events booked. And what kept him busy on the other 13? A lot of time with the press. He crammed 20 interviews and briefings into those days. He even skipped meetings at the height of the public scandal, after the release of the Cobbs-Gilman emails. On Oct. 24, 2012 (less than two weeks after some of the nation’s leading cancer researchers had severed all ties with the agency in protest over its mismanagement and their concerns of nepotism in the incubator grant), both Abbott and Dyer were absent, even though the top item on the agenda was the discussion of hiring a replacement for Gilman. Instead, the state’s top attorney was busy on Fox News ginning up a false controversy about international elections monitors visiting Texas to observe the Democratic process.

The story is related to Wendy Davis’ ongoing attacks against Abbott for his manifest failure to do his job on CPRIT. The facts of this sorry story are so unfavorable to Abbott that I have to think they’ll do some real damage to him. That’s my heart talking more than my brain, but we’ll see.

Texas Observer: Millennial Hispanics are way more secular than their ancestors

Pew’s survey of more than 5,000 Hispanics nationwide shows that an increasing number of Latinos are leaving Catholicism, their childhood faith. Just 55 percent of those surveyed identify themselves as Catholic, down from 67 percent in the previous comprehensive study in 2006. Now, nearly a quarter of all Hispanics say they are former Catholics. Overall, non-Catholics are nearly evenly divided between evangelical Protestants (16 percent) and those who profess no religious affiliation (18 percent). Mainline Protestants and other Christians round out the remaining 8 percent.

The conversion of some Catholics to evangelicals holds out hope for the GOP. Consider the study’s findings on abortion. Overall, Hispanics tend to be conservative on this issue. Fifty-three percent say that abortion should be completely or mostly illegal, with just 40 percent in favor of abortion rights—a flip of the 40/54 percent split among Americans generally. With Hispanic evangelicals, 70 percent are in favor of making abortion illegal. That’s even more than white (non-Hispanic) evangelicals. Even so, these evangelical Hispanics still mostly identify as Democrats (48 percent vs. 30 percent support for the GOP). That’s progress for Republicans since, overall, Hispanics identify as Democrats 56/21 percent.

But this is little more than a consolation prize when contrasted with how religiously unaffiliated Hispanics are changing the landscape. The unaffiliated, also known as “nones,” include those who think of themselves as “spiritual, but not religious” and those who are neither spiritual nor religious. They are far more pro-choice than Hispanics overall, even more so than the general public. They are also staunchly Democratic, overwhelming Republicans by 4-to-1.

According to the study, the bulk of the “nones” are young. What’s going on with the under-30 crowd? These are millennials, a generation significantly detached from institutions, making its presence felt. In 2010, unaffiliated Hispanics made up 14 percent of the 18-29 category. In 2013, as millennials rapidly came to dominate and define that age group, the unaffiliated more than doubled, rising to 31 percent of the cohort.

Hispanic millennials are a demographic tidal wave, the dominant ethnicity among millennials. Some 800,000 underage Hispanics turn voting age every year. They are the first generation that is mostly U.S.-born and identify closely with their non-Hispanic contemporaries. Their turn toward being “nones” closely matches the national trend, according to a separate Pew study. As the remaining millennial Hispanics come of age over the next decade, “nones” could wipe out whatever modest gains the GOP now enjoys with evangelical Hispanics.

Getting them to turn out, that’s the challenge for Democrats, especially this year. And if they do get engaged and involved in proportion to their numbers, expect the potential for change within the Democratic Party to be at least as big as the potential for change in Texas. Which, to be clear, I welcome.

Texas Election Law Blog: An under the radar assault on voting rights

So … let’s recap. By law, (see Section 11.001, Texas Election Code) you are citizen of Texas as soon as you permanently reside in Texas. As soon as you permanently reside in Texas, you qualify to vote and can apply for a voter registration certificate. But you can’t use a voter registration certificate by itself to vote. To vote, you need a picture I.D. issued by the Department of Public Safety. But to get a picture I.D., you need to prove that you’ve been domiciled in Texas for at least 30 days. (You’ll also need to prove your citizenship and identity, which, as I have described before, is another sort of fresh hell, but enough about that).

But to prove that you’ve been domiciled in Texas for at least 30 days, you’ll either have to present the documentary proof of your financial respectability (in the form of bank statements, utility bills, and paychecks), or you’ll have to fall back on the mercy of the modern poor house or work farm, getting someone else in a position of paternal responsibility to vouch for you as not being entirely transient and rootless.

The State of Texas (a state whose independence was precipitated by the actions of transient adventurers and freebooters) certainly seems to have put away the “welcome” mat once and for all.

This is the result of a change made to the Transportation Code in 2009, which two years later when voter ID passed combined to put an extra burden on would-be voters. It’s yet another reason why the voter ID law needs to be declared unconstitutional.

Go check them all out, they’re worth your time.

We still have no idea what the effect of the voter ID law will be

From the inbox, Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart declares victory for voter ID.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The final results of the 2014 Democratic and Republican March 4th Primary Elections have been approved by the Democratic and Republican Parties. The results show that less than 0.01% of the voters did not present one of the forms of photo identification required to vote at the poll.

“Thus far, voters have adapted quickly and have made the implementation of the photo identification requirement at the poll a success,” said Stan Stanart, Harris County Clerk and Chief Elections Officer of the County. “The predictions of dire consequences of the Photo ID law simply did not happen. The doom and gloom rhetoric has not matched the positive results in the third largest county in the nation.”

Total turnout for the March 4th Primary Elections was 193,491 voters; a 9.7% turnout. In the Republican Primary, 25 of the 139,703 voters voted provisionally because they did not present an acceptable photo ID. In the Democratic Primary, 10 of the 53,788 voters voted provisionally because they did not present an acceptable photo ID. As provided by law, within 6 days after Election Day, 4 Republican voters and 1 Democratic voter provided an acceptable Photo ID to the voter Registrar so that their provisional vote was counted.

“The fact that almost all of the voters have complied with the photo ID law does not surprise me. The Texas Secretary of State’s office and my office have worked very hard to inform the public about the photo identification requirement,” asserted Stanart. The County Clerk’s office launched a comprehensive effort to make voters aware of the photo identification requirement as soon as the law went into effect last year. The campaign included billboards, social media, press releases, contact with community organizations and other contemporary forms of outreach. The Texas Secretary of State’s office, along with assistance with the Department of Public Safety, conducted an extensive outreach campaign as well.

“I’m certain our educational efforts had an impact on compliance. But, an inherent awareness among citizens that a government issued photo identification is vital to the conduct of important daily personal transactions may be the underlying reason the voters were prepared to vote in these elections and will be prepared to vote in future elections,” concluded Stanart.

I’m sorry, but this is meaningless. There were fewer votes cast in all of Harris County this March than there were in just the city of Houston last November. It is highly likely that the number of people who voted this March but didn’t vote last November is tiny, especially in the context of Harris County’s two million registered voters. As such, the overwhelming majority of people who voted this March are people who have had experience with voter ID. The reason there were fewer problems with enforcing the voter ID law in this second election is the same reason why there were fewer problems coping with the second ice storm we had this winter: The people who’d endured one of them before had some idea of how to cope with it the second time around. That doesn’t mean any of us welcomed the experience or saw any value in it.

This November we are likely to see turnout in Harris County on the order of 700K to 750K, or as much as five times as many people as we had show up this March. The vast majority of the people whose first time dealing with voter ID will be this fall are people who by definition aren’t as engaged in the voting process and who very likely have received – and paid attention to – far fewer communications from campaigns, party officials, and election officials about what to expect. In addition, with turnout being so much higher, the likelihood of delays and people being frustrated by them will be that much higher. Stanart’s office has had its share of bumps in administering past elections. I’d be careful with the triumphalist rhetoric until after this November if I were he.

But even if this November’s election goes without a hitch, the bottom line remains that the voter ID law essentially disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of people in Texas who don’t have a drivers license and for whom getting a form of government-issued photo ID that is legally acceptable at the polls falls somewhere between majorly inconvenient and completely impossible. Remember, the Legislature deliberately made it as difficult as possible to qualify to vote. Consider how they do things in that notorious liberal haven of Alabama:

  • In Texas, student IDs are not acceptable forms of ID for voting. In Alabama, an ID from any public or private college or university in the state can be used.
  • In Texas, government employer IDs, other than military IDs, cannot be used for voting. In Alabama, any federal, state, county, or city employee ID is acceptable.
  • In Texas, only Texas drivers’ licenses and identification cards can be used. In Alabama, any ID issued by a state can be used.
  • In Texas, to obtain a ‘free’ voter ID, a voter must use a birth certificate or other narrowly proscribed official documentation to get a voter ID. In Alabama, voters may use private employer IDs, high school IDs, and nursing home IDs to obtain a voter ID – and, if they don’t have any of those, they can use any non-photo documentation with the voter’s name and date of birth, including Medicare and Medicaid statements and official school transcripts.
  • In Texas, election identification certificates are available only from select Department of Public Safety offices – and those notably aren’t available in every county. In Alabama, a voter ID can be obtained in each county at registrars’ offices.

The problem with voter ID isn’t that it presents a minor inconvenience to a relative handful of zealous regular voters. The problem is that it presents an insurmountable obstacle to a roughly equivalent number of people who for all intents and purposes are now ineligible to vote for no good reason. Furthermore, this is exactly what the law was intended to do. That’s why this law is bad, and that’s why it needs to be declared unconstitutional. The successful execution of a low-turnout primary election has no bearing on that. Peggy Fikac, who also wrote about this, comes to similar conclusions.

Another lawsuit filed against the voter ID law

The Observer reports.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Election Day last week brought plenty of complaints at the polls about Texas’ new voter ID law, but it also brought one major complaint in Corpus Christi federal court, where nine voters joined La Unión Del Pueblo Entero in suing the state over its tough new voting requirements.

The plaintiffs are long-time voters from South Texas who lack the photo ID now required to vote in Texas since the 2011 law took effect. “The State knew or should have known,” the suit says, “that Hispanic and African-American Texans disproportionately lack the forms of photo ID required by SB 14.”

[…]

The new complaint is focused specifically on the burden the law places on poor, rural voters, according to David Hall, executive director of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which is representing the new plaintiffs.

“What we were trying to do is fill in a niche that didn’t seem to be addressed much by the Justice Department suit or the other plaintiffs,” he told the Observer. “Most of our clients don’t have a handy certified copy of a birth certificate, so they’re going to be paying some money.”

That cost varies from $22—for the copy of a birth certificate you’d need in order to get a new state ID—to $345 for a copy of citizenship papers, according to the complaint. For residents of rural Willacy, Goliad or Karnes counties, getting that paperwork together can mean long, costly trips to the closest DPS office.

These are all familiar concerns to critics of the voter ID law—often raised by Democrats during the Legislature’s debate over the law, and dismissed by Republicans as abstract worries. Each of the nine plaintiffs in this suit demonstrate the very real problems Texas’ voter ID law created.

Eulalio Mendez, Jr., is an 82-year-old man living in Willacy County whose driver’s license expired in June 2012, and who has no way to travel to the DPS office in Harlingen that issues ID cards. Roxsanne Hernandez, in the Goliad County town of Berclair, had her state ID card stolen last year and doesn’t have a copy of her birth certificate. Estela Garcia Espinoza is a 69-year-old Raymondville woman who no longer drives, and whose license expired four years ago. She was born on a Starr County ranch in 1944 and her birth was never officially registered.

All the plaintiffs had voted regularly before this year, according to the complaint, and have incomes well below the poverty line.

Courthouse 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 who don’t have an ID and who can’t easily get it. The plaintiffs in this lawsuit, all of whom have been effectively disenfranchised by the law, are clear examples of this, and no happy-talk pronouncement about how “smoothly” this past election went by Republican election officials can change that. Unfortunately, the trial may not even begin before next November’s election, so whatever the full effect of this law may be, we’ll feel it. I hope we’ll be able to get an injunction before then, but we’ll see. Texas Redistricting, who also reported that the Texas League of Young Voters has amended its complaint to include non-race based claims, has more.

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.

Affidavits everywhere

Dallas County.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

At least one out of every seven early voters in Dallas County has had to sign an affidavit verifying his or her identity as part of Texas’ new voter ID law.

Though no one in Dallas County has been prevented from voting — or even forced to cast a provisional ballot — because a name discrepancy, officials said women are being especially impacted by the requirements.

And Toni Pippins-Poole, the county’s elections administrator, said the totals through the first five days of early voting for the Nov. 5 election are a conservative estimate of the potential inconvenience.

“I know it’s more,” she said, adding that the totals don’t cover all polling locations. “Not all the reports have come through.”

[…]

In Dallas County, more than 6,800 people from Oct. 21-25 voted early in an election that features nine proposed constitutional amendments. And at least 1,020 of those voters signed the affidavits before they voted, officials said.

The affidavits total is being hand counted, and officials haven’t been able to get reports from every polling location. So while Pippins-Poole anticipates there are many more instances, she said she won’t likely know for sure until the election is over.

Pippins-Poole said, however, that the name requirement appears to have a greater impact on women, who are more likely to change names after getting married or divorced. Many women, for instance, take on their maiden name as a middle name.

With even some high-profile women — including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis — being forced to sign an affidavit to vote, Democrats have pounced on the issue as an example of voter intimidation against minorities.

Election officials are taking pains to minimize the hassle. At polling locations in Dallas County, voters also have the option of updating their information in the voter registration database so it matches their photo identification going forward.

But at the least, there’s an extra minute or two of inconvenience for some voters. That might not a big deal in a low turnout election, but Pippins-Poole is already planning to add staff for the bigger primary and general elections next year.

“When you have a huge turnout, a minute for every voter could really produce some lines,” she said.

That’s an awful lot of voters, and a mighty big unintended consequence that most people didn’t see coming. I’ve not seen any figures on this for Harris County, but I bet they’re, well, substantially similar. (Sorry about that.)

One person who had to do the affidavit thing was Sen. Wendy Davis.

Davis, D-Fort Worth, is listed as Wendy Russell Davis on her driver license and as Wendy Davis on the voter registration rolls, said spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña. She signed an affidavit and cast an actual ballot, not a provisional one, Acuña said. A provisional ballot requires a voter to come back later with appropriate ID.

Democrats have voiced concern in recent days that women could be particularly affected by the new Voter ID law because they may have different names on their identification versus registration. They are making a push for women’s votes as Davis is expected to face Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott in the 2014 general election.

But if the listed names are substantially similar, voters must simply attest that they are the same person, said Alicia Phillips Pierce, communications director for the Texas secretary of state.

That’s what Davis did.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, whose registration is still in her maiden name, had to do the same. Sen. Davis sponsored the amendment that allowed for “substantially similar”ly-named voters to sign an affidavit instead of having to cast a provisional ballot. Imagine what the uproar would be like right now if that amendment had been voted down.

Not everyone affected by the differences in how their names are represented are women. One man who had to sign an affidavit was none other than voter ID fanatic Greg Abbott.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican who’s expected to get the party nod to face the Democratic senator next year, also will have to attest to his identity when he votes, according to campaign spokesman Matt Hirsch.

That’s because, like Davis, Abbott has a different name on his driver license than that on the voter rolls.

On his driver license, he’s Gregory Wayne Abbott, Hirsch said. In the voter registration file, he’s simply Greg Abbott.

How wonderfully ironic it would have been if Greg Abbott had been forced to cast a provisional ballot. And who does he have to thank for avoiding that ignominious fate?

Davis spokesman Bo Delp saw some irony in Abbott’s plan to use the Davis-sponsored provision: “If it weren’t for Wendy Davis’ leadership, Greg Abbott might have nearly disenfranchised himself.”

I hope Davis reminds him of that at any debates Abbott deigns to agree to.

The problem with voter ID is more than just name matching

Cindy George is correct about what isn’t a problem with voter ID.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The names on your voter registration card and your ID must match. For the most part. They will be considered the same if they’re “substantially similar.”

There have been rumblings that married women might run into problems at the polls and be asked to present their marriage certificates. Well, that’s not true. Proof of marriage is not one of the legitimate forms of ID.

It’s not just women who will face ID mismatch scenarios at the polls. Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, who is responsible for polling stations and ballots, had his own situation this week. He was the first person to cast a ballot on Monday at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray, a popular early-voting site.

His voter registration card says “Stan” while his driver’s license says “Stanley.” After signing the poll book, he also had to initial a box – an affidavit – to confirm that “Stan” and “Stanley” are indeed one and the same person.

“It’s a very simple, easy thing. The initials are what’s new,” he told the Advocate on Friday. “We’ve turned away zero people because of this issue in early voting. Zero. We’ve only had two people who voted provisionally and that was because the IDs they brought were long expired.”

[…]

Texas Secretary of State John Steen issued a news release late Thursday to remind voters that names on credentials do not have “to match exactly” and that poll workers have been trained to acknowledge “substantially similar” names.

“There is no truth to the claims that women have to present marriage certificates at the polls,” said Alicia Pierce, the secretary of state’s director of communications, who explained that the name mismatch also can occur with surname suffixes, such as Arroyo-López. “The only thing the voter will have to do is initial by the signature in the poll book, which is an affidavit that says ‘I am the same person.’ ”

The point about “substantially similar” names is true and is being made by voting rights advocates like Sondra Haltom, who rightly fear that confusion about the law will lead to a reduction in turnout. The message is simple: Don’t fearmonger, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t cast a ballot, because you can. Bring one of the acceptable forms of ID, and be prepared to sign the “substantially similar” affidavit if you must.

The problem, of course, is that many, many Texans do not have one of the “acceptable” forms of ID. That’s partly because not everyone has a drivers license – yes, even here in Texas, not everyone drives – and partly because the Lege made the politically-motivated decision to not include things like student IDs as “acceptable”. Further, the state has made a laughably inadequate effort to provide valid IDs to the folks that don’t have them. All this is at the heart of the ongoing litigation over voter ID, and it comes down to the fact that the state has effectively disenfranchised a significant fraction of its population. That can’t fixed with an affidavit. Heck, for that matter, if it hadn’t been for the likes of Sens. Wendy Davis, who had to sign an affidavit herself, “substantially similar” wouldn’t have been an option. It’s better that we have it, but given the widespread confusion, which is something I have heard from many women myself, it’s a lot of chaos and uncertainty in service of a myth. The best way to get rid of the problem is to get rid of the law. We’ll see what the courts have to say.

Where are all the teenage drivers?

There’s a lot less of them than there used to be.

TDL_Sample

Between 2001 and 2010, Texas added only 2,578 drivers age 16 to 21 while the age group grew by more than 238,000 statewide, dropping the percentage with a license from 62.4 percent to 55.9 percent.

Young adults who drive are doing so less often, researchers said, following a decade-long trend of higher gas prices and fewer young adult drivers.

Young people and transportation experts cite a variety of reasons why obtaining a driver’s license, once a rite of passage for any youngster, is becoming less important.

“Their status symbol, and maybe their focal point of choice, is their phone and the device they carry,” said Russell Henk, program director for the Teens in the Driver’s Seat program, a safety campaign created by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. “A car, 10 to 20 years ago, was the way to get together. Not anymore.”

The economy, and the need to lower costs by reducing gas consumption, is part of the reason for the drop, which officials say has yielded safety benefits.

“That has been a clear reason why we have seen a decrease in fatal crashes for that age group,” Henk said.

Fatalities for young drivers dropped dramatically between 2007 and 2010, including a 47 percent drop in fatalities for 16- and-17-year-olds, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Preliminary data for 2012, however, shows road fatalities among young people might be on the rise.

Some suggest environmental consciousness is convincing young adults to ditch their gas-guzzling cars when possible, or to bike or walk to get some exercise.

Classes are being taught via webcast, goods can be bought without driving and friends can connect online from their respective homes. Even the workday commute can be erased.

“We live in a world where productivity is valued over placement,” said Taylor Kilroy, a University of Houston Law Center student and head of the school’s Energy and Environmental Law Society. “If an employee can produce the same quality work from home, why not allow them to work instead of being stuck in traffic?”

The trend nationwide goes farther back than 2001, and there’s not a strong consensus on the reasons for it. The economic downturn certainly contributed to the steeper decline of the past few years, but there’s more to it than that. This Grist story from 2010 gets at some of the other reasons.

Consider, for example, the fact that teen employment has been falling for most of the last decade. In 1978 (the beginning of the period that Advertising Age looks at) about 48 percent of driving-age teens in the U.S. held a job. By 2008, that number had fallen to 33 percent, and it now stands at just 26 percent. (Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) And while I couldn’t find reliable stats on the relationship between teen employment and teen driving, it’s easy to believe that falling employment meant that teens had less reason to drive, and also less money to pay for cars and gas.

Likewise, the fall in teen employment coincided with both an increase in college attendance, and a decline in the real earning power of minimum wage work, particularly in the 1980s and the early- to mid-2000s. Rising college attendance may have have contributed to a decline in the need to drive, while falling minimum wage earnings reduced teens’ purchasing power.

And then consider the effect of rising oil prices. The chart below shows the difference 1970 and 2008 — a different period than Advertising Age looked at — but the lesson is pretty clear: By 2008, it was taking an awful lot of time for a young worker to earn enough money to fill the tank.

I was a teenage driver nearer the beginning of the period in question. I got my license in New York when I was 17, but most of the driving I did back then was of the weekend and summertime variety, because I didn’t have my own car and I wouldn’t have driven to school even if I did – I went to high school in Manhattan, so driving would have been really expensive, and there was no place to park. I lived on campus as a college student, and didn’t have a car till midway through my junior year, when I inherited my grandmother’s car after she passed away. So my experience tracks with what that Grist article suggests – I did most of my driving between the ages of 17 and 21 during the summer after I graduated high school, when I had a job that I couldn’t get to via public transportation. Otherwise, I just didn’t need a car that much.

I think the key to understanding this trend is to see if driving among people in their 20s, especially those who came of driving age during the tough economic times of recent years, also declines. If so, then we may be seeing a long-term shift that might have implications for our road capacity needs of the future, among other things. If not, it’s probably no big deal. See The Highwayman and EoW for more on related topics.

Drivers licenses for all – maybe

Not quite drivers licenses, exactly, but close enough.

TDL_Sample

A Dallas Democrat has teamed up with two powerful Republicans to craft a compromise version of a bill that would give immigrants here illegally the ability to drive legally in Texas and obtain insurance – but only after they submit to a criminal background check, fingerprinting and prove state residency.

The proposal is being sold by supporters as anything but a tool to expand the rights of people residing in Texas illegally. And they caution that a new form of driving permit will be granted, not an actual driver’s license.

Rather, they are pitching it as a law enforcement measure to fix an unintended consequence of a law passed last session that requires people to prove their citizenship to renew a driver’s license.

That 2011 measure has left immigrants who drove legally in Texas for decades unable to renew their licenses or buy insurance, a problem that has caused major headaches for law enforcement officials across the state.

“It’s good for law enforcement. It’s good for security,” said Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, who authored the measure, House Bill 3206. “We have already gone past the immigration debate, and now we’re into the law enforcement debate.”

Major business groups across the state, including the Texas Association of Business and the Greater Houston Partnership, are backing the bill, as are local law enforcement, including Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

“This bill is a good idea. It would make the streets of Harris County safer for everyone,” Garcia said. “We would learn a lot more than we know now about drivers who are already traveling our roadways every day, but have been unable or afraid to obtain a driver’s permit and insurance. Having more legal, insured drivers helps all drivers.”

This is one of those situations where the right thing to do is simple and obvious and most rational people recognize it as such, but the politics of it are dicey because the opposition is so fierce. HB3206 has every single one of Rep. Alonzo’s Democratic colleagues as coauthors, and it passed out of the State Affairs committee on an 8-1 vote last week, so it does have some bipartisan appeal; Sen. Tommy Williams and Rep. Byron Cook, the Chair of State Affairs, are the Republicans noted in the story as Alonzo’s allies. It’s starting to get late in the session, though, so if it doesn’t have enough support soon it’s likely to become a casualty of the calendar.

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.

Poli Sci profs against voter ID

Rice political science professor Mark Jones writes an op-ed in the Chron that does a thorough job of dissecting Texas’ contentious voter ID law.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Nearly one out of every three Texas counties lacks an operational DPS office, and no office is open after 6 p.m. or on weekends. DPS offices in the largest urban counties are limited in number, with the closest location often a substantial distance from the home of many residents. For instance, not one of the DPS offices in Harris County is inside the 610 Loop. Additionally, most DPS offices are poorly served by mass transit, a significant issue given that a large proportion of those in need of an EIC lack a driver’s license. Finally, waits of two to three hours are not uncommon at DPS offices.

The level of access to DPS offices in Texas contrasts markedly with that in Indiana, whose 2005 photo identification law was determined to be constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008. Every Indiana county has at least one Bureau of Motor Vehicles office, and those offices are generally open for four hours on Saturday. Indiana’s most populous county (Marion) has 12 offices for the 911,000 inhabitants residing within its 396 square miles, one office more than Harris County, which has a population (4.181 million) and land area (1,704 square miles) more than four times that of Marion County.

Ironically, SB 14 does not address the most common type of voting malfeasance in Texas: mail-in ballot fraud. While rare, it nonetheless is a problem of equal, if not greater, concern than voter impersonation fraud. And yet, SB 14 does nothing to combat it, neglecting to follow the example of a half -dozen states that mandate a voter’s signature on the mail-in ballot envelope be verified by a notary public or two witnesses. Under SB 14, a photo ID is not required to vote by mail.

When crafting SB 14, lawmakers likely determined that the negligible benefits in fraud prevention obtained by enhancing the integrity of the mail-in ballot process paled in comparison to the negative impact this reform would have on Texans, primarily those 65 and older, by making voting by mail more difficult for some and leading others to refrain from casting a ballot altogether. However, this same logic holds for SB 14’s photo ID requirement, which provides a miniscule enhancement in electoral integrity at the cost of placing even more onerous demands on a larger number of Texans.

Of course, as Jones notes, those who vote by mail are disproportionately Anglo and Republican, so naturally the Lege wasn’t interested in adding any obstacles to them voting. The bit about Indiana and its preponderance of DPS offices is something I didn’t know, and it adds another layer to the disingenuousness of Texas’ claims that voter ID isn’t so bad because of how it has gone in Indiana. I hope the Justice Department made all this plain to the judges. Anyway, also recently on the op-ed pages we had this piece in the Statesman by UT-Pan Am poli sci prof Jessica Lavariega Monforti, who mostly rounds up and recaps research on the deleterious effects of voter ID from the Brennan Center, and this Express News column by Ricardo Pimental making the obvious but insufficiently acknowledged point that voter ID is all about voter suppression. Check ’em out.

Why no ID?

Grits asks an interesting question.

Why do so many adult Texans lack ID? In part because 2 million drivers have had their drivers licenses revoked because of nonpayment of the Driver Responsibility Surcharge, which readers will recall is a stiff civil penalty tacked on top of any fines, punishments or court costs stemming from certain traffic offenses, including  driving without a license, driving without insurance, “point” accumulation, and DWI. Of those, around 1.2 million have not had their licenses reinstated, which would explain why so many voters may have had a DL number when they registered to vote but don’t now. If 2.4 million Texas voters lack state ID, and all but 800,000 had IDs when they registered, then the Driver Responsibility Surcharge could account for as much as three-quarters (1.2 out of 1.6 million) of those who had ID when they registered to vote but do not today.

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 Driver Responsibility Surcharges. This redundant civil penalty has inflicted untold misery on drivers who owe it, and judges blame the surcharge for Texas’ declining DWI conviction rate. Now it appears the surcharge is a major contributor to Texas’ Voter ID law being challenged. Meanwhile the Lege is using most of the “dedicated” funds from the surcharge to balance the budget instead of dispensing it to trauma center hospitals as they promised.

A comparison to other states that don’t have something like the DRS in place would be interesting as well. As I said before, Texas could have very easily headed off this particular objection, by making an acceptable state ID more widely available. But they didn’t, and in fact made it even harder for many people to get ID by cutting the budget for DPS, which led to the closure of many DMV offices. And again, this was entirely in harmony with their intent, which was to throw a bunch of people they didn’t like off the voting rolls, possibly for good. They could have gotten most of what they wanted, but they wanted it all and then some. The scary thing is, they still might get it.

Why do we make it so hard to vote?

News item: Many voter registrations around the country are outdated or incorrect.

Some 24 million voter registrations in the United States contain significant errors, including about 1.8 million dead people still on the rolls and many more approved to vote in multiple states, according to a report released Tuesday.

Even though the inaccuracies impact one in eight registrations, researches at the Pew Center on the States said they don’t see it as an indicator of widespread fraud. Rather, they believe outdated systems are failing to keep pace with the most basic changes in people’s lives, feeding perceptions that U.S. elections are not as airtight as they could be.

In conjunction with Pew’s report, eight states said they are working this year on a centralized data system to help identify people whose registrations may be out of date.

“A lot of people probably assume we do this already,” said Sam Reed, who oversees elections as Washington’s secretary of state. “I think it’s going to bring more trust and confidence in the election system.”

About 2.7 million people have active registrations in multiple states, including about 2,000 people registered in four or more states, according to the Pew report. Elections officials said it is difficult to track when someone has moved to another state without canceling their previous registration.

Dead people on voter rolls get a lot of attention. What gets much less attention is the number of eligible voters who get purged from voter rolls as election administrators try to clean them up. Database management is hard. People with common names are often mistaken for each other, but even people with relatively uncommon names can have this problem. There’s another person with the same name as my wife in the Houston area who isn’t very good at paying her bills. We know this because we have received many, many phone calls over the years from various collection agencies trying to track her down. With the best of intentions and the most careful practices, mistakes can be and are made by elections administrator. Of course, some of them don’t have good intentions, and some of them aren’t particularly careful.

News item: Nonprofit group files federal lawsuit against Texas over voter registration practices.

The only voter ID anyone should need

Why do we make this so hard to get?

The nonprofit Voting for America filed a federal lawsuit Monday alleging Texas voter rolls have been actively suppressed by excessive restrictions on volunteers who conduct registration drives, aggressive purges of county voter rolls and poll workers who improperly requested identification from voters.

“A developing body of state practices and provisions targeted at voter registration activities is endangering the rights of many Texas voters,” the lawsuit alleges.

The group, affiliated with the Washington D.C.-based Project Vote, runs nonpartisan voter registration drives nationwide and has previously mounted legal challenges to state voter registration procedures in Missouri, Ohio, Indiana and New Mexico, among other states.

The latest lawsuit filed in the Southern District of Texas courts names Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade and takes aim at the state’s new mandatory training for all volunteer registrars – in which almost anyone who handles a voter’s application as part of a registration drive has to complete training before he or she can be “deputized” to operate in any Texas county. A spokesman for Andrade refused comment.

Population growth in Texas exceeds most other states, while many voter registration rolls throughout the state remain stagnant. As of January, 12.9 million Texans had registered to vote -up just 2 percent from January 2008.

That’s a companion to a Chron story from January 30 that I still haven’t seen online that notes voter registration totals in Harris County have stagnated despite its growth over the past decade. In response to which local Dem activist Stan Merriman wrote this op-ed about simplifying the voter registration process:

First, the voter, once registered should always be registered; any changes can and should be treated with a simple change of address process, excepting those few who lose their right to vote.

Second, voting at all times and locations should be treated like we do early voting. Voters should be allowed to show up at any polling place within the county and, with verification that they are county residents, be allowed to vote. Our sophisticated data base technology today can take care of the verification process.

Third, the county should routinely allocate adequate funding to maintain an ongoing voter registration and participation outreach campaign to motivate our citizens to participate in a simple process that ought to be routine, not torturous. The scale of our outreach now is comparable to that of a backwater, rural Texas county.

Fourth, my own party has never made registration a priority; it is not even mentioned in our State Platform. We should get into registration in a huge way, rather than relying on other groups.

Fifth, we should allow election-day registration, as is done in many states. Studies have shown at least a 15 percent increase in participation levels compared to states with burdensome advance registration processes, such as those in Harris County.

As I see it, there are two types of people in this country: Those who believe voting is a right, and that everyone has the right to vote unless they are too young, not citizens, or have an unresolved felony conviction; and those who believe voting is a privilege that one must earn by successfully completing a series of bureaucratic obligations. (Or, preferably, by being born in the right places to the right people. They don’t usually say that part out loud.) I am in the former group. All of these problems, along with the well-documented Republican efforts to suppress voting via onerous voter ID requirements, convince me that the solution is to reaffirm the right that every free adult citizen has in this country to vote and do away with all the needless and nettlesome requirements that hinder that right.

Admittedly, that’s easier said than done. One possible way to help is to take responsibility for tracking voters away from local officials and make it a federal responsibility. Kevin Drum suggests that a national ID card provided by the federal government would go a long way to solving this problem, and would make the voter ID issue moot as well. I realize that’s a black-helicopter issue for some people, but honestly in this day and age when Google and Facebook know more about you than you do about yourself, how scary is that really? But putting all the technical details aside, what this comes down to is very basic. Either you believe adult citizens have a right to vote that should not be interfered with by petty bureaucrats, or you believe that voting is a privilege that is arbitrarily granted and can be denied by whim or computer glitch. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would think the latter is acceptable. Stace and BOR have more.

UPDATE: Here’s that Chron story about voter registration totals in Harris County. Thanks to Fred King in the Tax Assessor’s office for sending it to me.

News flash: Voter ID will mean fewer people can vote

I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

As many as a quarter of voters in some small Texas counties might not be able to cast ballots if the federal government allows the new state voter ID law to go into effect.

And in some places, the potential for that decrease in the number of voters could affect the outcome of elections.

The impact of the law was gleaned from several pages of data that the Texas secretary of state’s office provided to the U.S. Department of Justice, which is reviewing the law to determine whether it illegally hurts minority voters.

The data show that in 27 of Texas’ 254 counties, at least 10 percent of the registered voters might be unable to cast ballots, if Senate Bill 14 by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, takes effect.

New flash #2: This is a feature, not a bug. If the law gets preclearance, it will do exactly what the Republicans who have been relentlessly pushing it intend for it to do. Not that they’re honest enough to admit it, of course.

Late last month, the Justice Department postponed its decision on pre-clearance. It asked the state for more information about voters. In particular, the department wanted more information on more than 600,000 registered voters whose names don’t appear in Texas databases of people with valid driver’s licenses or state-issued ID cards.

Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, urged caution in interpreting the numbers. He said at least some of the 600,000 people in question might have what they need to vote.

“It is very possible they have one of the permissible forms of ID as required by Senate Bill 14,” Parsons said. “But we don’t know.”

The data show a potentially serious situation in Presidio County in Southwest Texas.

There, as many as 25.9 of registered voters might not have the required photo ID to cast ballots. If the new law were to take effect, as many as 1,313 out of 5,066 registered voters might be unable to vote.

State Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring , who sponsored the voter ID legislation in the House, discounted the possibility that her measure would diminish some people’s votes — even in Presidio County. “I don’t think this, in any way, is going to disenfranchise anyone,” she said.

Harless said most of the people not found in DPS files would be able to vote. Maybe their licenses and voter ID cards are different because one has a maiden name and the other has a married name.

Rep. Harless, meet Dorothy Cooper. If you believe that her experience in Tennessee will not happen to people here, you are at best tragically naive. It’s clear that the Secretary of State cannot answer the questions that the DOJ has raised about this law and its obviously retrogressive effects on voting rights. The only acceptable solution is to deny it preclearance.

Justice Department urged to block voter ID law

I’m all in on this.

A coalition of civil rights groups is urging the Obama administration’s Justice Department to reject Texas’ voter-ID law, charging that the measure advocated by Rick Perry intentionally discriminates against black and Hispanic voters. The Legislature passed the law earlier this year requiring voters to present a picture identification. The Justice Department has the authority to review whether laws in Southern states violate federal civil rights laws. Perry and Republicans in the Legislature say the law is designed to stop voter fraud. Democrats say its intent is to discourage minorities from voting.

In a letter to the Justice Department, the civil rights groups ask that the Justice Department not to pre-clear the law. Advancement Project Co-director Judith Brown Dianis said the measure “is part of the largest legislative effort to turn back the clock on voting rights in our nation in over a century.” The letter was submitted by the Advancement Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Justice Center and the Southwest Workers Union.

You can see the letter here, and the Advancement Project’s press release here. I urge you to read both, because there’s a ton of information in there about just how burdensome the new law would be if it gets precleared, and how the effect would fall disproportionately on minorities. I was on a conference call on Thursday night with Christina Sanders and Denise Lieberman of the Advancement Project, and one of the things they mentioned was that there are an estimated 600,000 registered voters who do not currently have a form of ID that will be acceptable under the law. For many of these people, obtaining such ID will be nearly impossible, because there are many counties in Texas that do not have a fulltime DPS office; in some cases, people will have to travel up to 80 miles to get to the closest office. That’s a mighty tall order if you don’t have a driver’s license.

Another group that will be disproportionately affected is students. The League of Young Voters Education Project discusses that aspect of the law and the complaint to DOJ.

[On September 8], the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc. and the League of Young Voters Education Fund issued a joint letter urging the Attorney General to reject Texas’s proposed photo identification law. The organizations argue that Texas has not met its burden under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of showing either that this proposed voting change will not be harmful to minority voters, or that its adoption was free of discriminatory purpose.

“As our letter explains, Texas’s proposed photo ID measure, which does not permit the use of a government-issued student identification card as an acceptable form of identification at the polls, would disfranchise students who only possess student identification,” said Christina Sanders, State Director for the Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund.

This is especially true for many African-American students at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black university located in Waller County, who have been the target of multiple efforts to deny their votes over the years. The League of Young Voters Education Fund collected statements from dozens of students at Prairie View confirming that the proposed photo ID law will disfranchise them.

It is noteworthy that these new burdens have been imposed against the backdrop of an unfortunate history of discouraging student voting at Prairie View A&M. For more than three decades, Waller County has repeatedly sought to prevent students at Prairie View A&M from participating in the electoral process. Litigation from the late 1970s—including a decision from the Supreme Court —barred Waller County’s efforts to block Prairie View A&M students from voting in local elections. Nonetheless, in the 1990s and 2000s, local officials indicted students, or threatened them with prosecution, for voting in such elections.

“Students have a right to vote where they attend school,” Sanders said. “We are urging the Department of Justice to stand in the gap to protect their voting rights. We cannot afford to ignore this real threat to their voting rights—a threat to their access to the ballot is a threat to everyone’s access to the ballot.”

Although Texas’s purported rationale for the photo ID Law is to prevent fraud, there is absolutely no record of voter fraud with respect to in-person voting in Texas.

“It’s a lie. It’s not true. It does not exist,” said Royal Masset, former Political Director of the Republican Party of Texas.

Yes, that’s the other thing to remember. This law is supposed to fight a kind of fraud that quite simply does not exist. Attorney General Greg Abbott spent two years and millions of dollars looking for voter impersonation cases, and the best he could come up with were a couple of limp instances of questionable behavior with absentee ballots, which are out of scope of the new law. The real purpose, of course, is to suppress the vote of certain Democratic-leaning constituencies, and one hopes that the DOJ will object and prevent the law’s implementation. We’ll have an answer from them by September 23.

UPDATE: See this Roll Call story for some more background.

DPS Megacenters

Not sure what I think about this.

With a $63 million infusion from the Legislature, state officials hope to cut the legendary long lines and irritating red tape at driver’s license centers across Texas with upgraded technology and new “megacenters” in Austin and three other metro areas.

Texas Department of Public Safety officials on Tuesday provided the first peek at their plans for the expedited new system: $600,000 will be spent to “refresh” existing centers, credit cards will be accepted at all locations, online payments will be allowed, and new uniforms will be given to all employees.

“The goal is to do driver license renewals in 30 minutes,” said Rebecca Davio, a DPS assistant director in charge of the driver’s license division. “We’re also looking to schedule driving tests online.”

[…]

With $63 million in additional funds, Davio said the division in the coming year will hire more than 360 employees, pay current employees more, purchase new equipment and install $3 million worth of new technology .

The following year, she said, six megacenters will be operational and $3 million worth of additional new technology will be installed to complete a plan she said is designed to “transform the driver license experience statewide.”

The Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth areas each will have two megacenters — licensing offices designed to handle large volumes of business, instead of the smaller centers that DPS has historically operated. Those areas have been plagued by customer complaints for years.

One megacenter will open in Austin and another in San Antonio.

A year ago, DPS initiated a successful pilot program, starting in Austin, to cut the wait times with express lanes for shorter transactions and appointments made online, among other changes.

One of the megacenters already is open in Houston, but locations for the other centers, which will be leased, have not yet been determined, Davio said.

Some changes already have started to take effect, and they should reduce the licensing wait: Card delivery times have been shortened to under 10 days, and queuing systems (electronic take-a-number systems) have been installed at the agency’s 59 busiest offices to speed up the process for waiting customers.

I’m pretty sure they had a take-a-number thing at the DPS office where I got my first Texas driver’s license over 20 years ago, so I’m not really clear on how that will help. In my experience, what makes the process take so long is that there’s such a high customer volume. The only way to fix that is with more employees. I guess that’s part of the plan to “transform the driver license experience”, but there are no specifics about customers per hour and employees per customer, so who knows. A lot of the rest sounds like fluff – uniforms? really? – and stuff that probably should have been done a long time ago, like scheduling driving tests online. But maybe I’m being overly cynical. Anyone been to that pilot location in Austin? Let us know what it was like.

DPS loses lawsuit over drivers license rules

This happened the week before last, but I’m not sure it will matter at this point.

On [July 29], Judge Orlinda Naranjo ruled against the Texas Department of Public Safety and said that the agency could no longer require those here on temporary visas to prove they are in the country legally in order to receive a standard driver’s license.

In 2008, a Texas state panel approved a measure which issued non-standard licenses to immigrants in the country on a temporary basis. That action was taken in an effort to crack down on identity theft and fraud.

Many people who come to this country on various types of travel orders simply overstay their visas and become illegal aliens. If they already have a standard driver’s license it is much easier for them to obtain another one as well as jobs, bank accounts, loans, etc.

The plaintiff in this case, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), sued Texas on behalf of six foreign nationals as well as a landscaping company that relies heavily on the H-2B visa for workers.

See here for more. The court had issued an injunction against DPS in 2009. During the special session this June, a provision in SB1 codified the DPS rule, so it’s not clear to me that this ruling will have any effect. But there you have it anyway.

The consolation prize

The Republicans couldn’t get their act together enough to pass the “sanctuary cities” bill, but they did manage to do this.

A provision in the approved Senate Bill 1, the special session’s must-pass school finance bill, will require people to prove U.S. citizenship or legal residence before they can renew or get a Texas driver’s license.

[…]

The original author of the language, Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, defended his provision and said it would not lead to racial profiling.

“Everybody is asked for the same information,” Williams said. “Every person has to do this.”

Currently, DPS rules allow driver’s license officers to ask a person applying for or renewing a license to ask for proof of citizenship or legal status.

Williams said he wrote the driver’s license language to require officers to ask for such information.

Williams said he wants a law on the books, and he noted that a lawsuit has challenged the DPS rule.

Williams pushed for the driver’s license provision during the regular session, but his legislation never cleared the House, where it appeared to be unpopular.

Then in the special session, Williams attached it to the sanctuary cities bill. And again the House never took up the measure with Williams’ addition.

Finally, the driver’s license provision was added again in the special session to the budget bill, which was approved by both chambers on Tuesday.

I wonder how well-publicized this change will be. In particular, I wonder how many people will show up at their local DPS office later this year when this law goes into effect and be turned away because they didn’t have a passport or birth certificate (long form, naturally) with them. If it happens to you, make sure you blame the right people for it, that’s all I can say. For now, at least, DPS still allows for online renewals of one’s driver’s license. You have to pinky-swear that you’re a citizen as part of it, but that’s not the same as showing a document to a person. I don’t know if this will change. Anyway, my license is good till 2015. If yours expires sooner than then, I hope you’ll remember this procedural change. Hair Balls has more.

Voter ID 2011

The debate is going on in the Senate today over voter ID – it will be taken up by the House later, after committee hearings that are sure to be a freak show. You can follow the ins and outs at places like the Chron’s Texas Politics blog and the Statesman’s Postcards from the Lege; be sure to read this Seinfeldian classic so you can fully appreciate the deep unseriousness of the whole shebang. I do want to highlight one bit from this Chron preview story, helpfully flagged by TexasChick in the comments:

“This year’s Senate Bill 14, however, allows a person to vote only with a Texas driver’s license or state identification card, a valid military ID or a federal document such as a passport that proves citizenship and contains a photograph. The bill also includes $2 million for voter education and requires the Texas Department of Public Safety to issue a free photo ID card to any citizen who wants it for voting.”

Now I firmly believe that if the state is going to put conditions on citizens’ ability to exercise their rights, the very least they can do is to try to accommodate the citizens who need help meeting those conditions. As such, I’m not going to criticize the $2 million that’s to be allocated (from federal HAVA funds, mind you) to accomplish that, other than to note that it’s not a whole lot of money though it is greater than zero. I just want to point out that what this shows is that if the people in charge really want to do something, they will find a way to pay for it. So, two million bucks to help disenfranchise marginally fewer people (some people, anyway) than strictly necessary, we can do that. Public education, on the other hand, that’s gonna get cut somewhere between 9.3 and 9.8 billion dollars. Priorities, you know. Abby Rapoport, who notes that this version of the voter ID bill is more stringent than any currently out there, and as such may not survive scrutiny from the Justice Department (we can only hope), has more.

UPDATE: How could I possibly forget about the devious nuns? Gotta watch those nuns, they sure are tricky.

Driver records available online

You know how you need to mail a request to get a copy of your driver’s record when you request to take a defensive driving course to get a ticket dismissed? Now you can save yourself a stamp and order it online.

“We are pleased to offer this new service, which is available 24/7 to our customers,” said Rebecca Davio, the [Texas Department of Public Safety]’s assistant director for driver licenses. “The convenience of ordering your driver record online and then printing it out yourself will save everyone time and money.”

Drivers can place their order using a credit card and their driver license, and then print out their record, which is available in a certified version suitable for submitting to a court for permission to take defensive driving, officials said. Cost is $12.

Go to Texas.gov and click the link to order driver record. There’s other stuff on there as well. Looks like a useful service, if you can ignore the creepy photo of Rick Perry in the top right of the page.

Man the barricades!

Wayne Slater, on the just-ended state Republican convention in Dallas:

For a party in power, there seem to be a lot of martyrs in the Texas GOP.

Rush Limbaugh says Democrats are the party of victims. But it was the Republicans at their state convention in Dallas this weekend who clearly saw themselves as the oppressed and mistreated.

“The fox is in the henhouse,” said congressional candidate Stephen Broden of DeSoto of the myriad enemies bearing down on conservatives. “And they have one thing in mind — fried chicken salad.”

For all the Republicans’ success in Texas, the barbarians are apparently at the gate: liberals, atheists, socialists, Hollywood, the media, a White House at work on wrecking the country and ruining their lives.

Everywhere you looked at the Dallas Convention Center, people were wearing their victimhood.

This is, of course, nothing new. It’s been the mantra of the state and national GOP for years, but it has become more prominent lately, especially with the Tea Party movement. It would be funnier if it weren’t so pathetic.

That sense of victimhood, of being under siege, is reflected in the party’s official platform, some highlights of which you can see in the sidebar here. A few choice nuggets:

Calling for repeal of the Real ID Act, which “creates an unconstitutional and privacy-inhibiting national ID card.

Note that at the same time, the Republicans want to make it a Class A misdemeanor criminal offense “for an illegal alien to intentionally or knowingly be within the State of Texas”. Since they also want to make it illegal for anyone who can’t prove their residency status to be able to get a driver’s license, that document would in effect become your “national ID card”. You’ll still have to show your papers to get anything done in this state if they have their way.

Creating a felony offense for anyone who performs a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple.

Just in case you thought it wasn’t possible to make gay marriage any more illegal in Texas. I have no idea who might be out there performing rogue gay marriage ceremonies, but I suppose one cannot be too careful. I presume the next step will be to deputize people in other states to make citizens’ arrests of gay marriage ceremony performers on behalf of the Republican Party of Texas.

Banning the use of red light cameras.

As a reminder, it was a Republican, State Rep. Jim Murphy, who authored the legislation in 2007 that codified the use of red light cameras in Texas.

Calling for the repeal of the state lottery and opposing any further legalization of any type of gambling.

As a reminder, it was a Republican, State Rep. Ed Kuempel, who was the author of the joint resolution in 2009 to allow for casino gambling.

You get the idea. For more on the wackiness that was in Dallas, including the election of a new RPT Chair, Steve Munisteri, see the Trib, PDiddie, Dave Mann, and Abby Rapoport.

Our teen drivers are better than yours

Good news is always welcome.

A new report by the Texas Transportation Institute found that the state’s rate of fatal teen crashes is dropping faster here than anywhere. Researchers looked at 37 states that put restrictions on teen drivers’ licenses and found Texas is alone in seeing the number of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes drop for five consecutive years.

“Texas is doing a better job than any of the other states,” said Texas Transportation Institute researcher Bernie Fette, co-author of the 46-page report released Monday. Fette credited not just the license restrictions but also programs in high schools to get kids focused on safe road behavior.

Since 2002, when 625 teen drivers were involved in fatal crashes, Texas’ numbers have come down each year. In 2007, 419 fatal crashes involved teen drivers.

[…]

Teen driving risks have been on the minds of lawmakers in Texas at least since 2002, when new rules for young drivers known as graduated driver’s licenses took effect.

Since then, new Texas teen drivers have had to spend six months with a learner’s permit before getting a license. After that, they must spend another six months with other restrictions, including a prohibition against driving between midnight and 5 a.m.

This year, lawmakers extended those probationary periods to 12 months each, and outlawed the use of cellphones by young drivers.

But Fette said his research suggests that tougher laws are only part of the reason for Texas’ success in making fatal crashes involving teen drivers less frequent.

After all, Texas’ laws have not been as strong as those in many other states. And some states with graduated driver’s license laws actually saw their fatal crash rate go up, Fette said.

In Texas, he said, 300 school districts are implementing a first-in-the-country program called Teens in the Driver Seat, an initiative that gets teens talking to their peers about the risks of driving. Preliminary research says the program, begun in 2003, has worked.

“The [graduated-license] law is a necessary foundation,” Fette said. “But that law can be reinforced or made stronger through a peer influence program like Teens in the Driver Seat. If you have a combination of the two, as Texas does, what you have is a really good one-two punch.”

Here’s what the TTI says on its homepage, and here’s their white paper. Good to see Texas leading the way in something that isn’t a negative.

Where’d that driver’s license data come from?

The Lone Star Project revisits the matter of Ed Johnson and Dwayne Bohac and their cozy relationship as business partners with a real in at the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office.

Last month, the Lone Star Project revealed that Harris County Associate Voter Registrar, Ed Johnson, is a paid employee of a GOP political consulting firm, Campaign Data Systems (CDS), owned by Republican State Representative Dwayne Bohac.  On the firm’s website Bohac boasted that the CDS voter data file is enhanced by information culled from “driver license” records.  The contact name provided to obtain the data is Ed Johnson, Bohac’s business partner AND the Harris County Associate Voter Registrar. How did CDS get the drivers license records? It appears that Bohac obtained the records improperly by way of his “man on the inside” Ed Johnson.  Here are the relevant facts and documents:

  • Under Texas law, official driver license records can be obtained ONLY from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) after paying a considerable fee and signing an agreement that the records will not be sold or given to other individuals or organizations.
  • Documents obtained from the DPS by the Lone Star Project confirm that the Harris County Elections office obtained and received regular updates of Texas driver license records. When obtaining the records, Ed Johnson himself signed an agreement on behalf Harris County that he WOULD NOT make the information available to any other individual or organization.
  • The DPS also confirmed that neither Campaign Data Systems, Dwayne Bohac nor any CDS clients individually requested or received driver license records at any time.
  • The only direct link between driver license records and Campaign Data Systems is Ed Johnson, who appears to have improperly used driver license records from the Harris County Elections Office to enhance voter data sold by Campaign Data Systems.

Did Dwayne Bohac and Ed Johnson break the law?
Dwayne Bohac must either produce evidence that CDS obtained Texas Drivers License records from a source other than the Harris County Elections office OR admit that he lied to clients and did not enhance their voter data with driver license records. Otherwise, Dwayne Bohac and Ed Johnson conspired to illegally obtain Texas Driver License records and use them for commercial political purposes which is a violation under the Texas Transportation Code, Sec. 730.013, and the federal Driver Privacy Protection Act of 1994.

You can click over to see the documents themselves. More will be coming next week.

Tuesday Lege roundup

Some more notes about what has been happening in the Lege…

– It looks like the program to test high school athletes for steroids will be scaled back.

Texas lawmakers have reached a deal to slash steroid testing of public high school athletes to less than half of the current program, but still leave it big enough to test thousands of athletes over the next two years.

The deal was struck by House and Senate members negotiating the 2010-2011 budget, lawmakers said Tuesday.

The current $6 million program was designed to test up to 50,000 students by the end of the current school year. The tentative deal for the new program would slash funding to $2 million over the next two years.

Good! Zeroing it out completely would have been better, but I can live with this. Maybe next time it’ll go away.

– There’s still some hope for the omnibus gambling resolution, but Rep. Ed Kuempel has a backup plan ready anyway.

UPDATE: Brandi Grissom tweets that “the fat lady has sung” for the gambling bill.

– If you’re under 21, getting a driver’s license for the first time just got harder.

– A tax on smokeless tobacco, which would fund a medical school repayment fund for doctors who agree to move to rural areas, passed the House.

– And finally, Rep. Senfronia Thompson’s HB982, the alternate strip club tax, has passed the Senate.

The Texas Senate voted on Tuesday to repeal a $5-per-person admission fee on strip clubs that has been ruled unconstitutional and agreed to replace it with a new tax on sexually oriented business.

The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Perry for his consideration even as House members were poised to debate a competing bill favored by sexual assault victim advocates.

Passed in 2007, the strip club admission fee has been ruled unconstitutional by a judge and is currently under appeal. Money collected under that fee was sent to a fund to help sex assault victims and a pool for uninsured Texans.

The new tax proposed by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, would apply to adult movie theaters, adult video stores, adult bookstores and other sexually oriented businesses that charge admission fees. It would total 10 percent of gross admissions receipts.

According to a legislative analysis, the new plan would send 25 percent of the new fee to a state school fund and the rest to a sexual assault victims fund.

But some advocates for victims say the new bill is a ruse put forth by strip club owners, who would not be required to charge admission to their clubs, and would sharply reduce the money collected to help assault victims.

The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault instead supports a separate House bill by Rep. Ellen Cohen, D-Houston, who pushed the original $5 fee. Cohen’s bill would reduce the club entry fee to $3 and dedicate all the money to the sexual assault fund.

Rep. Cohen’s HB2070 is still pending in the House. More here.