TribBlog: Voter ID Fight Ramping Up Again?

The issue that nearly derailed the 2009 session could be back in 2011, according to the chairman of the House Elections Committee.

House Speaker Joe Straus, left, and state Rep. Todd Smith, R-Bedford.
House Speaker Joe Straus, left, and state Rep. Todd Smith, R-Bedford.  toddsmithrep.com

A multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall, a decennial fight over redistricting and a battle over immigration might not be enough to prevent voter ID from creating the same knock-down, drag-out brawl in 2011 that it did last session, according to state Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, the chairman of the House Elections Committee, which met today to hear invited testimony on what, if any, additional evidence has been unearthed that would warrant Texas to require voters to present a photo ID before casting a ballot.

“It may not receive attention in the press because of competition from other issues, but in terms of the extent of the contention on the issue itself among the parties or the members, I don’t see it as being dramatically different,” Smith said.

The issue nearly derailed the 81st session after House Democrats “chubbed” — a tactic in which members engage in pointless banter over minor bills — to prevent a vote on the voter ID bill. They argue voter ID would only disenfranchise students, the elderly and minorities. Whether or not a similar bill receives the same fate depends on the Democrats, Smith said.

“In terms of whether or not there is going to be a five-day chubbing, if [Republicans] are in the majority, that’s really more something [state] Rep. [Rafael] Anchia could tell you. I don’t make those decisions,” he said. Anchia, D-Dallas, sits on the committee and pointed to the state’s own statistics that reflect the issue is minor at best.

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There have been 267 requests referred to the Texas Attorney General’s office to investigate voter fraud in Texas since 2002, said Jay Dyer, special assistant to Attorney General Greg Abbott, in testimony before the committee. More than 20 million ballots have been cast in November general glections alone during the same span. Of those 267 referrals, not all will warrant a “full fledged prosecution,” Dyer said, because of “fact or law or both,” and only 35 have been resolved through prosecution.

“It’s a rounding error to a rounding error. I consider voter fraud an important problem to deal with, but I consider disenfranchising eligible voters a travesty,” said Anchia. “And that’s why I really want to make sure that we don’t adopt legislation based on methodology or inaccurate numbers.”

State Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, pointed out that an allegation could involve more than one person — specifically, “vote harvesters” who take other voters’ mail-in ballots and send them in. And, she added, there are also cases filed with district attorneys’ offices that aren’t included in the AG totals.

But the problem doesn’t speak to something that voter ID would address, Anchia countered. “Over 50 percent of the complaints that we have are from mail-in ballots, yet all of the efforts of this legislature during the past three sessions have been focused on impersonation, and that doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.

To Harper-Brown, at least, accuracy takes a back seat to the issue itself. “There are a lot of things that we pass laws on down here that we don’t have a hard, firm fast number on. Uninsured children, I think, is a good example of that,” she said. “We extrapolate a lot of the numbers and pass a lot of laws based on estimates, not on hard facts.”

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