Vol 29, Issue 38 Print Issue

While You Were Watching Voter ID

Voter ID for Democrats in 2012 is like 1989 NFL season for the Dallas Cowboys. That year, America’s Team mustered one victory in a 16-game campaign, and it came against the hated Washington Redskins.

Outnumbered and beaten down, Democrats saw their hated voter ID bill get to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk in 2011, only to see it halted by the Department of Justice and subsequently, a federal court this year.

Score one for the Ds.

But a bevy of GOP-backed laws that affect voter registration, which critics allege are just as egregious, sailed through the Legislature and were precleared by the Department of Justice. They include House Bill 174, by state Rep. Jim Jackson, R-Carrollton, which requires the Texas Secretary of State  to access the Social Security Administration’s death master file to check for deceased voters. It passed the Texas House after a 143-1 vote, and the Senate passed it unanimously. It wasn’t until living voters began getting notices saying they needed to prove they were alive that Democrats cried foul. Voters subsequently sued the state and an agreement was reached this week that voters wouldn’t be purged — this time. But the law is still in play for the next round.

Then there was House Bill 2194, by state Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, which ensures that a voter registrar meet the requirements of a registered voter. Before, a registrar simply had to be deputized. What that means is that thousands of permanent legal residents in line for citizenship — those who lawmakers say “followed the rules” when they came here — can’t take part in the process as registars because they don't qualify as voters. It also prohibits compensation based on how many voters a person registeres. The DOJ made no determination on that bill, meaning it didn’t find it would disenfranchise voters. And it also sailed through the House 134 to 7, and unanimously through the Senate.

The League of Women Voters of Texas was concerned, telling the DOJ that: “Texas has lagged the nation in voter registration and has been among the states with the lowest turnout of the voter eligible population, 46th in 2008 and 50th in 2010.”

Regardless, the law is in effect now.

So where was the outrage during the session? The opposition wasn't organized and some argue all the energy was spent on voter ID.

“Voter ID became more of a symbol and a litmus test than it was about the actual substance of the law,” said state Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg. “And so because these other bills did not have that high profile attention, both nationally and on a state level, they didn’t receive the sort of projected ‘are you with us or are you against us’ mentality.”

Project Vote, a voting rights group that sued the state and was granted an injunction against parts of the voter registration provision — only to see it overturned — declined to comment on why the DOJ precleared the laws. But spokeswoman Sarah Massey said voter ID was the “vanguard” that let the other laws come in to play.

“Voter ID seems to be the one that people really seem to understand, voter ID is the forefront of the voter restriction campaign [and] it’s fairly popular,” she said.  “ What we have behind voter ID now are restrictions on voter registration drives, and also how to register. But those who sell these laws put them under the same guise of ‘we’re fighting for voter integrity’ and that’s their talking point.”

That talking point seemed to sell, at least during the session.