With Voter ID in Effect, Edinburg Voters Cast Ballots

EDINBURG — This Rio Grande Valley city is supposed to be the epitome of a community whose residents could be marginalized by the state’s voter ID law, according to opponents of the recently implemented measure.

The median household income here is about 20 percent less than the state’s $50,100 average, and the population is about 88 percent Hispanic, according to U.S. census figures. It is people in these demographics — the lower to middle classes and minorities — who would be disenfranchised by the 2011 law, critics argued.

The first day of early voting Wednesday in the three-candidate City Council race here only yielded about 400 votes, but some citizens who voted said they didn’t see a problem showing an ID to cast a ballot. And despite the war being waged over the measure between the state’s attorneys and the U.S. Department of Justice, the battle lines didn’t trickle down to many of the voters here.

“I didn’t have a problem,” Dina Martinez said. “I didn’t know about [the new law].”

Others said they were reminded of the rule change through announcements in regional newspapers, but they didn’t see a problem with the effort because it would help clamp down on the alleged voter fraud they say they hear about in local elections.

“I think it’s a great idea because it prevents any fraud,” said Ray Molina, whose younger brother, Richard Molina, is one of the candidates. John de la Garza and Armando Marroquin round out the rest of the ballot. Early voting ends Sept. 10, and the general election is Sept. 14.

The voter ID law had been on hold until a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that cleared the way for its implementation. Before that, both the Justice Department and a three-judge panel of federal judges in Washington had struck down the measure after denying Texas’ request for preclearance. The Supreme Court’s ruling, however, did away with the preclearance provision.

The Texas secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections in the state, has not received any complaints or concerns from Edinburg, said Alicia Pierce, an agency spokeswoman. She added that during a recent Galveston school district election, which also required voters to provide photo IDs, there were no reports of problems.

Lucy Alvarado, who leans Democratic but said she tries to be independent during general elections, said the state allows enough options that people shouldn’t complain. Voters can furnish a state-issued ID, driver’s license or concealed handgun license; a military ID, a U.S. passport or passcard; a citizenship or naturalization certificate; or an election identification certificate.

But others see the possibility for problems. Joey Tijerina, who joined Martinez at the polls, said he didn’t have an issue with providing an ID. It’s needed for most things, he said. But he said that if older generations were accustomed to a different process, they could be left out.

“If they just have their voter card, they should still be allowed to vote,” he said. And the older Molina said he wasn’t aware that work or school IDs were not allowed, and he was concerned that some voters could be excluded from the process.

Whether the local election in Edinburg or other smaller elections will provide enough of a litmus test to see how far-reaching the voter ID law will be is still uncertain. But opponents of the measure are keeping a close eye nonetheless.

The Mexican American Legislative Caucus is among the fiercest opponents of the measure, and last week the group’s attorney, Jose Vargas, urged voters without an ID here to try to cast a provisional ballot regardless, a move Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott called “unethical.”  

On Thursday state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, the MALC chairman, said it was too soon to make a determination on the effects of the law either way.

“There is no comment because any comment is premature at this point,” he said. “We will make a proper statistical assessment when the election is complete.”

Attorney Chad Dunn, who represented plaintiffs in a suit over the state’s redistricting maps and is also against the photo ID provision, said this election wouldn’t be a true test. Turnout will not be large enough to gain an accurate perspective.

“It would actually surprise me, in these little elections, if there were effects because of voter ID,” he said. “Turnout for these elections is abysmal. Even turnout for presidential elections is abysmal.”

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