About Those Free Voter ID Cards

Opponents of Texas’ voter ID law were supposed to be somewhat placated by a component of that 2011 measure that requires that the Texas Department of Public Safety to issue free IDs to non-drivers interested in casting a ballot.

That would solve the problem of the hundreds of thousands of Texans without the money to pay for IDs, conservative supporters of the bill argued.

But a month after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling gutted a key component of the Voting Rights Act and paved the way for the state’s implementation of the voter ID bill, Texans aren’t exactly camping out at DPS offices to get their voting credentials. As of July 26, the department had issued six of the documents, an average of about one a week, across the state. Texas DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said the documents were issued in Lampasas, Austin, Snyder, Skidmore, Jacksonville and Dallas.

When asked what the dismal figure means, friends and foes of voter ID rehashed their old arguments.

“It proves what we all suspected to be the case — that it’s highly unlikely that anyone wouldn’t be able to meet the ID standard laid out in the bill,” said Beth Cubriel, the executive director of the Texas Republican Party.

Cubriel conceded there would be another “surge” — a term she used loosely — as election dates near. She lightheartedly added that it would likely resemble the first rush — the half-dozen issued so far.

Vinger said there had been about 50 inquiries about the EICs, but many found they already had the necessary documents. Alternatives include a Texas driver’s license or ID, a passport, a concealed handgun license, a passport or passcard, or a military ID or naturalization certificate.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas said the numbers are so low because the required documents are nearly as difficult to obtain as a driver’s license or ID.

“We know, from evidence in our photo voter ID case, that this law adversely affects poor, black and Latino Texans. So we’re not at all surprised to hear that few Texans have been able to take advantage of this supposedly free ID,” said Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas. “It costs money to get the underlying documents, such as a certified copy of your birth certificate, which you need to prove to DPS your eligibility for the free ID.”

The Texas Democratic Party is keeping with that same message. Tanene Allison, the party’s communications director, said the time spent getting the free card equals money thrown away.

“Anybody who has ever struggled knows that time is money,” she said. Like the GOP's Cubriel, she said the numbers may rise as elections, and interest in them, grows. But the TDP spokeswoman said the free IDs won’t make a dent in the overall problem.

“The bottom line is that voter ID disenfranchises Texans,” Allison said. “I imagine those numbers will rise but they won’t match the numbers of Texans who need them.”

As far as the U.S. Department of Justice’s latest efforts to once again subject Texas to federal review of voting laws — that’s happening through last month's legal filing from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder — Republicans aren’t too worried about that. At least not yet.

“We’re confident in the [Texas] attorney general’s ability to defend our state’s rights in Texas,” Cubriel said.