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TribBlog: Senate Approves Voter ID Bill

As expected, the Texas Senate approved the controversial voter ID bill on Wednesday. Next, the measure will move to the Republican-dominated House, where it is also expected to pass easily.

Senators gather in Texas Senate well as they discuss SB 14 Voter ID January 26th, 2011

The Texas Senate approved the controversial voter identification bill Wednesday night, as expected.

It took just about six hours of debate Wednesday to get the bill passed. As ever, the 19-11 vote was split on party lines, with Republicans voting for and Democrats against.

The measure would require voters to present photo identification — like a driver's license or a concealed-handgun license (this is Texas) — at the polls in order to cast a ballot. Right now, Texans only have to show their voter registration card. Gov. Rick Perry declared the item an emergency issue, and the House, which is also Republican dominated, is expected to easily approve the measure.

Democrats proposed about three-dozen changes to the bill that would have made it easier or cheaper to obtain identification or that would have allowed non-photo identification for use in voting. They argued that the photo requirement would drive down turnout, particularly among minority, poor and elderly voters. And, they say, there's no proven problem in Texas with voter impersonation, the type of crime the voter ID bill would address. "We are doing everything we can to protect the right of the legitimate citizens in the state of Texas to vote," said state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Most of the proposals failed.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, proposed nearly the same voter ID bill that the Senate passed last year — it was less restrictive than the current one because it allowed two non-photo forms of identification to be used instead of a photo ID. "It is very much a photo ID voter bill," she said. That failed, too. Democrats also voiced concerns about the cost of the bill at a time when the state is in such dire financial straits. The fiscal note says it will cost about $2 million to implement, but Democrats say it could be much costlier, particularly for local governments.

Republicans who support the measure, however, have insisted that similar requirements in states like Indiana and Georgia have not reduced voter turnout. "We believe the universe of people who do not have a driver's license is very, very small," said State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, the bill's author. And Republicans said requiring photo identification will ensure integrity at the ballot box. Fraser said the measure probably won't cost the state anything, because Texas already gets voter education funding from the federal government. "I don't think there will be a need for additional appropriations," he said.

One Democrat-sponsored change that was approved (and also sponsored by Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick, of Houston) would allow Texans to present a concealed-handgun license to vote. The license has a photo on it, and, after all, it allows people into the Capitol without going through security scanners.

Democrats acquiesced to allow debate on the voter ID bill to get started in the afternoon instead of in the middle of the night, as the rules required. But they went to great lengths first to ensure that the record reflected that their agreement to suspend rules that would have required the chamber to wait until after 9 p.m. today to start the debate didn't in any, way, shape or form indicate that they support the bill. "We're going to do everything we can to stop this bill," said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. They just wanted to do it at an "appropriate" time instead of in the middle of the night.

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Texas Senate Voter ID