More than a week ago, Texas Senate Democrats put Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry on notice: They wanted her office to get more mobile units on Texas streets to give voters without an acceptable photo ID a chance to get one before November's election.
One week later, there's been no movement to do so, says state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.
The problem, he says, is that there are not one but two state agencies in charge of putting more mobile units out in the community. The Secretary of State's office (SOS), which includes voter registration, has to coordinate where the mobile units will go. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) actually owns the mobile units which can issue the new Texas election identification certificates, or EICs.
After trying to get the two entitites to agree on how to do it — and to do it quickly — Watson said late Tuesday that it "appears to me it is a breakdown on both ends."
Under the state's voter ID law, residents must present an acceptable form of photo identification for their vote to be counted. Acceptable photo IDs include Texas driver’s licenses or Texas ID cards that have not been expired for more than 60 days at the time of voting, U.S. passports, or military or U.S. citizenship certificates with photos.
But Texas residents who do not have those forms of identification can obtain an EIC from DPS by presenting documentation — such as a birth certificate — that proves U.S. citizenship and identity. They must also have a valid voter registration card.
DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said his agency "continues to work closely with SOS regarding EICs" but would not answer questions as to why no dates have been set up for the mobile units to provide EICs in September. "Feel free to call the Secretary of State’s Office for information related to this issue as well," he added.
Alicia Pierce, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State, said the DPS mobile units will be in Floresville, southeast of San Antonio, on Oct. 10 and 11 to issue EICs. But she said scheduling was done before the senators sent their letter. Nothing has been scheduled for September yet, she said, but dates were in the process of being "finalized." Once that happens, she said the locations of the DPS mobile units issuing voter IDs will be posted at votetexas.gov.
So far, only 279 EICs have been issued. A federal trial over the state's voter ID law, now underway in Corpus Christi, claims that as many as 787,000 people in Texas are eligible to vote but cannot because they do not have proper photo ID.
Enter Watson and the Senate Democratic Caucus. They fired off a letter last week expressing their concerns that Texans may not know how to navigate the bureaucracy in time to get an ID that will allow them to vote this year.
"We are especially concerned that registered voters who lack the appropriate identification documents will be prohibited from voting this November," according to the caucus' letter, signed by Watson and nine other senators: John Whitmire, Rodney Ellis, Carlos Uresti, Judith Zaffirini, Eddie Lucio Jr., Royce West, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, Sylvia Garcia and Jose Rodriguez.
"It appears this is some evidence of how little the state really did care in making it easy for people to vote," Watson said in an interview. "And if the voter ID bill was really not meant to make it harder for people to vote you, would hope that the state agency responsible for voting and the state agency responsible for providing the identification so people could vote would work together seamlessely as opposed to what it appears."