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Everything you need to know about voting in Texas

What the Legislature is doing to fix Texas’ controversial photo ID law — and what that means for the 2018 primaries.

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The legislative session may be winding down, but Texas election season is heating up.

As lawmakers return to their districts after the session adjourns on May 29, candidates will be preparing for 2018 elections amid an ongoing controversy surrounding the state’s 2011 voter identification law (which was found to be intentionally discriminatory — again).

We’ve compiled an overview of upcoming races, what the Legislature is doing to address problems with the state’s photo ID law and what this all means for Texas voters.

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What are the races to watch in 2018?

Several prominent names from both sides of the aisle have pledged to run in both state and national races in 2018. One of the most notable announcements as of late was U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, who will challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, both Republicans, are also up for re-election in 2018. 

Others up for re-election in 2018 include Attorney General Ken Paxton, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick, all of whom are Republicans. 

What’s the controversy surrounding Texas’ voter ID law, and how could it impact those races?

In July 2016, a federal appeals court ruled that Texas’ voter ID law discriminated against minority groups who were less likely to have one of the seven forms of state-approved photo ID — a violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act — and ordered a district court judge to draw up a temporary fix for the November election. So Texas conducted its 2016 general election under a court-ordered relaxation of the rules.

This April, a federal judge ruled for the second time that Texas’s voter ID law intentionally discriminated against Latino and black voters. Assuming it withstands almost-certain appeals, the federal ruling could put Texas back on the list of states needing prior approval to change its election laws. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling released Texas and other states with a history of discrimination from that list.

But several top Republicans, including Paxton and Abbott, have pushed back on these rulings.

In April, a spokesman for Paxton said his office was "disappointed and will seek review of this ruling at the appropriate time." And Brantley Starr, Paxton's first deputy assistant, previously told the House Committee on Elections that he believes an appeals court will overturn the 2017 ruling by considering the state’s effort this year to pass a new ID law.

Whether a legal appeal or new legislation will impact upcoming elections remains to be seen.

Where does Texas stand now on voter ID requirements?

During the November 2016 general election, Texas softened its voter ID law — a development some said make it easier for minorities to cast their ballots. Under the terms, registered voters were able to vote without a photo ID if they presented proof of residence, such as a utility bill, bank statement or paycheck and signed a form swearing a “reasonable impediment” kept them from obtaining a photo ID.

The Senate approved legislation in late March that would revamp the state’s voter identification rules. That bill has since cleared a committee in the House.

Senate Bill 5 by Republican state Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston would create requirements similar to the court-approved photo ID fix put in place for the 2016 elections, adding options for Texas voters who say they cannot “reasonably” obtain one of seven forms of ID currently required at the polls. But it would also create harsh criminal penalties for those who falsely claim they need to choose from the expanded list of options.

Patrick has granted the bill “priority” status, carving it a faster route through the current Legislature, and Paxton has applauded the legislation. If Huffman’s legislation is signed into law, Texas would continue using the less-stringent rules used during the November election.

So what do I need to vote under the current law?

If you’re confused about what ID to bring to the polls for the 2018 election, you’re probably not alone. The legal wrangling over the state’s requirements has turned rather complicated. Here are the seven types of photo ID currently accepted at the polls (though this may change by the end of the legislative session):

  • A state driver's license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)
  • A Texas election identification certificate (issued by DPS)
  • A Texas personal identification card (issued by DPS)
  • A Texas license to carry a handgun (issued by DPS)
  • A U.S. military ID card that includes a personal photo
  • A U.S. citizenship certificate that includes a personal photo
  • A U.S. passport

Voters who do not have any of these documents and cannot “reasonably obtain” them can still cast a vote if they sign a form in which they swear that they have a “reasonable impediment” from obtaining appropriate identification. Those voters must also present one of the following types of ID:

  • Valid voter registration certificate, which county clerks mail to voters within 30 days of registration
  • An original birth certificate
  • Copy or original of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other document that shows the voter’s name and physical address (any government document that contains a voter’s photo must be an original)

Senate Bill 5, in its current form, would keep these additional provisions intact.

How do I register to vote in the meantime?

While the deadline to register falls roughly a month before each election, registration is ongoing (to check if you’re registered to vote, visit the Texas Secretary of State’s website). There’s no way to register online in Texas, but if you want to make sure you’re set for future elections, you can register in person at your county voter registrar’s office or by filling out a voter registration application online, printing it and mailing it to your county’s registrarTo find out if there’s a race near you and see what will be on the ballot, visit the secretary of state’s website or your county’s website.

What is the registration deadline for 2018 primary races?

Registration for the 2018 primary races closes Feb. 5, 2018.

How can I learn more about 2018 candidates and races?

The Texas Tribune will be following the 2018 races closely. Sign up for The Brief for a daily rundown of election and government news in your inbox.

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Politics 85th Legislative Session Voter ID