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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.

Court issues injunction against DPS over drivers license rules

A district court judge has suspended the new drivers license rules implemented by the Department of Public Safety pending a civil trial on the grounds that DPS didn’t have the authority to do what it did.

The rules prevent thousands from getting standard-issue licenses even though they’re legally in the country, said the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is suing over the policy.

District Judge Orlinda L. Naranjo said the rules — which specify that people who aren’t U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents must prove they’re legally here before getting a license — go beyond DPS authority.

“This case is not about illegal immigrants obtaining driver licenses, it is about legal residents who have been denied or have been threatened a denial of a driver license,” Naranjo wrote to lawyers, saying she was granting a temporary injunction. After a formal order, such an injunction would block the rules pending a trial.

[…]

“DPS has created havoc by attempting to inject its political agenda into the lawmaking process and improperly giving second-class status to individuals who in every way have complied with the laws of the land regarding their presence in the United States and Texas,” said David Hinojosa, MALDEF lead attorney in the case.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, said the rule changes “had no legislative backing. State agencies do not have the power to pass rules that contradict or fail to comply with state laws.”

Before the rules were changed, an unexpired visa was accepted as proof of identify for someone seeking a driver’s license, Naranjo noted. The change required the visa to have been issued for at least a year and have at least six months remaining on it when presented to DPS.

[…]

Naranjo wrote: “State agencies possess only those powers granted to them by the Legislature … The Court finds that the Legislature did not give DPS the authority to create a new category of ineligible persons to receive a driver license.”

Apparently, what Judge Naranjo said isn’t good enough for DPS.

The state said it has filed notice that it will appeal the decision by State District Judge Orlinda Naranjo of Travis County, who said DPS acted outside the scope of its authority in its changes to driver’s license rules last year.

DPS said the appeal means those rules — touted last year as a crackdown on unauthorized immigrants — will remain in effect until the merits of the appeal are decided.

“Noncitizens or temporary visitors to the United States who appear at DPS driver license offices will not be issued driver licenses if they do not meet current identification rules,” the agency said.

Not so fast, said the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which sued over the rules and persuaded Naranjo to agree to the temporary injunction.

The group will oppose the state’s effort to keep the current rules in place while the appeal is pending, said staff attorney David Hinojosa: “We would fight that.”

If filing an appeal means you can ignore a judge’s order, then what’s the point of having the district courts? I don’t know why DPS thinks this order doesn’t apply to it until the 3rd Court of Appeals says so, but I hope that should the 3rd Court uphold the district court’s ruling that DPS will abide by it. And I hope that the 3rd Court will clarify what should have happened here. This strikes me as a potentially dangerous precedent.

Anyway. Just to review the history, DPS implemented this rule change in October. Stories about the difficulties that legal immigrants faced getting licenses soon followed, as did two different lawsuits to force DPS to rescind that rule. I’m not sure if they were combined into one or if the other case is still pending. There’s also been legislation filed to prevent DPS from doing this, though I doubt it will pass; as of today, both HB1278 and its companion SB2261 are in committee. If it is the courts that ultimately decide this, we’re a long way off from a resolution.

Two immigration stories

Governor Perry writes a letter to the Department of Homeland Security.

Perry asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano this week to take a series of steps to improve information-sharing between federal, state and local law enforcement. The Homeland Security-related issues “seriously affect public safety in Texas,” Perry wrote earlier this week in a letter to Napolitano.

A spokeswoman for Napolitano, Sara Kuban, said Napolitano would respond directly to Perry and declined to comment on the specific issues raised in the letter.

The governor’s requests include:

  • Giving all Texas jails access to a database that automatically checks suspects’ immigration history. So far, 19 of the 252 jails in the state with electronic fingerprint booking participate in the program, including the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Houston Police Department.

    Those 19 jails have checked 37,000 people through the database since last fall, and have identified 8,844 with fingerprints on file with immigration officials, according to Perry’s letter.

    Perry specifically cited the case of Wilfido Alfaro, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who avoided deportation after multiple arrests in Texas and last month shot and critically wounded a Houston Police officer.

  • Requiring ICE officials to notify the state when they deport a foreign national with a Texas driver’s license, which would close a gap that has allowed illegal immigrants to keep valid state identification. For example, according to local investigators, Alfaro had a Texas driver’s license, even though an immigration judge ordered him to leave the country in 2001.
  • Keeping illegal immigrants convicted of crimes in federal custody until their deportation. Perry cited a recent case involving two Cubans convicted of robbery in Florida and dropped by immigration officials at a bus stop in Willacy, Texas, after being released from custody.

Based on a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, immigration officials have about six months to deport or release immigrants after their immigration case is decided. To hold someone longer, the federal government must show that a foreign government will issue the detainee travel documents in the “reasonably foreseeable future” or certify that the person meets stringent criteria to be classified as a danger to society or national interest.

In cases involving immigrants from countries like Cuba, which lacks a repatriation treaty with the U.S., the detainees routinely are released from immigration custody within six months because they cannot be deported.

Other than number three, which raises some Constitutional issues and really needs to be resolved by the US growing up and re-engaging with Cuba, these strike me as perfectly reasonable requests. There’s a big difference between verifying the immigration status of someone who’s already been arrested for something, and verifying the immigration status of someone who’s been pulled over or stopped on the street by the cops for whatever arbitrary reason. Maybe there’s something here I’m not seeing, but offhand I don’t have any objections to the first two items.

The earlier story about DA Pat Lykos’ “no plea bargains unless you confess your immigration status to us” proposal is a different kettle of fish. Mark Bennett gets into some of the problems with this idea, which he also sums up in a simple question, but it’s John Nova Lomax with a truly impressive deconstruction of the Lykos Plan. I can’t really add anything to what he wrote, so go check it out for yourself.

The Heflin plan for voter ID

While I still have hope that voter ID can be stopped one more time, I can certainly understand the viewpoint that a sufficiently determined Republican majority can push through what it wants to if it really tries, especially if we do wind up having one or more special sessions, and that as such the best tactic is to try to mitigate the inevitable damage. So I don’t have a problem with State Rep. Joe Heflin coming up with a “compromise plan” for this essentially uncompromisable issue. It’s just that in doing so, he (probably unintentionally) points out how absurd it all is.

Rep. Joe Heflin of Crosbyton is drafting an approach that he believes could bring members of both parties together. Early this week, he outlined some of his ideas to Smith, who didn’t reject any ideas out of hand, though he said today he wants to hear testimony on their feasibility and potential costs before making commitments.

Heflin hopes to have a draft proposal ready by Tuesday including these elements:

— Phasing in the ID mandate over four to six years to soothe Democratic qualms that the Republican ID push is driven by partisan desires to tamp down turnout among minority, Democratic-leaning voters next year in legislative elections. Their fret: The 2011 Legislature (elected in 2010) will be tasked with redrawing congressional land legislative districts based on the 2010 U.S. Census; more Republican legislators means a more Republican map.

— Exempting voters 65 and older from the ID mandate, with the exemption age increasing by one year every year after the law takes effect;

— Placing each voter’s photo on their registration cards, which also would newly have bar codes linked to PIN codes that voters wishing to submit ballots by mail would have to mark down in order to do so;

–Ensuring there’s funding for ID cards in some cases and to support expanded voter education and registration efforts.

The “phase-in” idea, which was also floated by David Dewhurst leads one to wonder just how much some of the Republicans believe their own rhetoric if they go for this. I mean, if you truly believe that elections are being stolen left and right because of swarms of voter impersonators, would you find a waiting period before implementing the solution you claim will stamp it out to be acceptable? Either this is the single most important issue facing Texas today or it isn’t. Phillip, who notes that by Rep. Todd Smith’s own admission, voter ID is really about creating a wedge issue, asks the same question.

Exempting voters over the age of 65 sounds nice, and would solve some of the problems of disenfranchisement. It’s just that by enacting such an exemption, you’re stipulating to the disenfranchisement problem, which the Republicans have adamantly denied. And given that one reason why some people have a hard time getting state-issued ID is that they don’t have their original birth certificates (some folks, who were born at home, never had them), how are we going to ensure that those who are eligible for the exemption, and only those who are eligible, receive it?

Putting photos on voter registration cards is a nice idea, and might have avoided this whole stupid issue had we been doing that all along. But how exactly are we going to do that? Will everyone have to go to their county’s voter registrar office to get a photo taken? If we just use existing driver’s license or state ID photos for voter reg cards, what about the folks who don’t have them? That’s what Democrats have been complaining about all along. And how much would this cost?

Speaking of which, does anyone really believe that the party that doesn’t want to fully fund the unemployment insurance trust (among many other things) is going to want to put up an appropriate amount of coinage to pay for ID cards and expanded voter education and registration efforts? Remember, officially SB362 has no fiscal note, meaning that “no significant fiscal implication to the State is anticipated”. Even if we managed to create some pool of money for this, we have a pretty lousy track record of late in ensuring that the funds collected go to the purpose for which they were intended. I see this as a huge trap.

Other than all that, of course, I think this is a reasonable idea. Again, I don’t blame Rep. Heflin for trying. I just don’t see how he can succeed, at least on the terms of the debate as they have been advanced so far.

Dems seek repeal of new DPS rules

We didn’t have any voter ID action yesterday, but we did have this.

Some Democratic lawmakers joined by Texas residents who have had trouble getting drivers’ licenses under new Department of Public Safety rules pushed Monday for legislation that would undo a policy they say harms U.S. citizens and legal immigrants.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, of San Antonio, said the DPS overstepped its authority by creating new identification rules last fall for drivers’ license applicants without getting approval from the Legislature.

“It’s far-reaching, it’s completely uncalled for and it’s completely unnecessary,” she said.

McClendon filed a bill that went before a House committee on Monday to stop the policy. Democratic Sen. Judith Zaffirini, of Laredo, filed an identical proposal in the Senate.

McClendon’s bill is HB1278; Zaffirini’s is SB2261.

Under the new DPS rules, people seeking drivers’ licenses who aren’t U.S. citizens must show they are in the country legally and that their immigration documents don’t expire within six months. DPS also changed the look of the licenses given to legal residents and added the designation “temporary visitor” on the card.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry supports the DPS rules, which took effect Oct. 1. His spokeswoman, Katherine Cesinger, said the rule change “ensures public safety and national security.” She said the identification requirement is not unreasonable and shows that applicants are who they say they are.

The Public Safety Commission, which oversees DPS, said it wanted the change to enhance security and deter fraud. DPS officials say the change brings Texas closer to compliance with the impending federal REAL ID Act launched after the September 2001 terrorist attacks and governing drivers’ license security.

The REAL ID act is unpopular with many states, and McClendon said it amounts to an unfunded mandate.

Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat, said some elderly Texans do not have birth certificates. He specifically mentioned a 98-year-old woman in Fort Worth, whose original certificate burned in a courthouse fire years ago. Other U.S. citizens who were delivered by midwives don’t have birth certificates, he said.

We’ve already heard about Bessie Jenkins Foster. State Rep. Joe Farias said at the hearing that he has no birth certificate, because he was born at home. This is a big deal, because it’s not so easy to get a birth certificate if you don’t already have one. And that has implications for – you guessed it – voter ID.

To get a Texas photo ID for the first time, you have to provide a birth certificate. A certified copy will cost you 22 smackeroos (Fraser’s bill does not waive that fee), if you can manage to get one at all.

I asked DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange if there was any way to get a Texas photo ID without a birth certificate. She answered, “We gotta know who you are.”

Getting a birth certificate so you can get a photo ID is a Catch 22 at the Texas Department of State Health Services. To get a copy of your birth certificate, you need to submit a copy of your photo ID. Technically, if you don’t have an ID card, the DSHS Web site says you can submit an immediate family member’s photo ID, or copies of two documents bearing your name, one with a signature. But the application http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/vs/reqproc/forms/vs142.3.pdf for a birth certificate reads, in bold caps, “APPLICATIONS WITHOUT PHOTO ID WILL NOT BE PROCESSED.”

Summary: Getting a photo ID in Texas requires a birth certificate … which requires a photo ID … which requires a birth certificate … which requires a photo ID … and if you manage to stumble across the information about the technicality allowing alternative documentation, it’ll still take DSHS 6 – 8 weeks to process your request if you pay with a check or money order … by which time it may be too late to vote.

Pretty nifty little trick, isn’t it? For a party that claims to hate big government, they sure do seem to like big bureaucracy. As the story notes, there are two lawsuits pending over the new DPS rules. I don’t expect these bills to pass, so in the end I presume it will be the courts that settle this.