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31 Days, 31 Ways: Stringent Voter ID Law Means Changes at the Polls

DAY 24 of our month-long series on the effects of new state laws and budget cuts: The state is preparing to enforce more stringent voter ID requirements.

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Throughout the month of August, The Texas Tribune is featuring 31 ways Texans' lives will change come Sept. 1, the date most bills passed by the Legislature — including the dramatically reduced budget — take effect. Check out our story calendar here

Day 24: The state's contentious voter ID legislation begins to take shape. The photo requirement does not take effect until 2012, but next month state agencies are scheduled to begin various outreach efforts designed to educate Texans about the legislation.

Will it suppress the vote, as minority groups and Democrats allege? Or will it restore integrity and increase the state's abysmal turnout at the polls, as those who champion the measure say it will?

Beginning in 2012, voters will be required to show a valid photo ID to cast a ballot. Gov. Rick Perry designated the legislation, which passed as Senate Bill 14,by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, as an emergency item. During the 2009 session, the voter ID bill came close to derailing the final weeks of the 81st Legislature as House Democrats engaged in the stall tactic called "chubbing" — debating minor bills in an effort to stall the calendar from advancing — to ensure the measure did not come up for a vote. After last year’s election gave Republicans a 101-49 advantage in the House, however, the bill was virtually assured to make it to Perry’s desk.

The new measure means most Texans will have to show an allowed form of identification to vote in any local, state or national election. These include a state-issued ID card or a driver’s license, a military ID, a concealed handgun license issued by the Department of Public Safety, a passport or a state-issued election identification certificate. The latter is a free ID issued to a person who requests it specifically for the purpose of voting.

Most of the bills passed this previous session take effect next month, as do a number of provisions in the voter ID bill. The actual photo requirement, however, goes into effect in January after lawmakers decided the state should allot additional time to educate voters about the bill’s requirements.

So what happens next month? Several outreach and education directives begin that are intended to explain to the public what the law does and what voters will need in order to cast a ballot. County voter registrars, for example, are directed to supply the new requirements with each voter registration issued or renewed. The Texas secretary of state and any county registrar that maintains a website must provide notice of the ID requirements, and election clerks will undergo training related to the acceptance and handling of identification.

It’s still unclear what happens after that. Whenever the state Legislature passes a measure that affects voting or changes the mechanisms by which a Texan casts a ballot, a provision of the federal Voting Rights Act allows the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal courts to review the law. That process is pending. The Texas Secretary of State filed its request for pre-clearance with the Department of Justice last month, and a response is expected in September. If the department rules that the bill will not adversely affect voter turnout, opponents of the measure are likely to file litigation to halt the measure.

 Web resources:

The Texas Secretary of State Elections website

Texas Department of Public Safety's page on Lawful Presence Requirements needed to obtain an ID.

**As part of The Texas Tribune's ongoing effort to explain the fallout from the 2011 regular and special sessions, we encourage you to engage with us and be part of our coverage. Respond to our stories below. Post a comment on our Facebook page. Send photos to our Tumblr site. We may come to you in the future to help us tell the story of how Texas is changing.


 

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