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Analysis: The Voter ID You Won't Need to Show When You're at the Polls

The only identification that you have that says you are, in fact, a registered voter is the one ID you do not need when you go cast a vote.

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It seems odd that you do not need a voter registration card to vote in Texas, but that’s one effect of the state’s voter ID law.

The state’s voter identification law — the one that says you have to provide photographic proof of who you are before your vote will be counted — is being challenged in federal court.

The voter ID law is in effect until and unless the courts knock it down or the Legislature changes it. And this isn’t really about that law, but about the confusion it engenders.

The old way was pretty straightforward. Register to vote. Take your registration card to the polls. Vote. Go home. It had the advantage of simplicity, and it seems kind of intuitive to take a voter card to go vote.

If you want to vote in Texas, you still have to register. Once you’ve done that, the state sends you a voter registration card — just like always — to show that you’re registered.

But you don’t have to show that card to vote.

In fact, you don’t need it at all, at least when you go vote. It is not one of the seven forms of identification that the people at your polling place are supposed to accept.

So, to repeat: You have to register, you still get a card proving you did, and you can stuff that card in a drawer and forget about it. You need a driver’s license to drive and a concealed handgun license to pack heat, but you don’t need proof that you are registered in order to vote, something you can do anytime between now and Oct. 6.

There is one exception, for voters with disabilities who also state they have no photographic IDs and who have applied for a “permanent exemption” along with their voter registration. They get a special note on the registration card — and in their case, that’s all that is required to cast a vote.

Otherwise, you have to have one of these to cast a vote: a Texas driver’s license, an Election Identification Certificate, a personal identification card or a concealed handgun license issued by the state Department of Public Safety; a U.S. military identification card or citizenship certificate containing your photograph; or a U.S. passport.

Voters who show up without one of those IDs can still cast a ballot, but it will end up in the “provisional” vote bin and will be counted only if the voter shows a valid ID to county officials within six days.

You can still use the voter registration card to find out what voting districts you are in, whether that’s for Congress, the Legislature or local offices. You can still show it as proof that you’re registered. But much of that is on the internet, too, where you can look up your address to see who represents you, and you can look up your name to see if you’re registered (and if they spelled it right).

The challenges to the state’s photo voter ID law are partly about the confusion and hassle caused by the changes. Opponents argue that the law not only makes it more difficult for some people to vote, but that it is designed to do so, particularly to elderly and minority voters.

The proponents contend that the old law, without photo IDs, made the election system insecure, open to fraud. Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose office is defending the law, told the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board last week that the law has been used in a couple of elections and that there is “zero proof” that it caused any vote suppression.

The law doesn’t make voting more intuitive. For this election, officials will require one of the seven things on that approved list,— even if it is not the ID that says you have the right to fill out a ballot.

You can bring that voter registration card for old times’ sake, but you won’t need it.

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