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Lighting Up: Fort Worth, Voter-ID Law, and Willie

By       Message Ken Wheatcroft-Pardue     Permalink
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     The new Texas Voter ID law had one effect with which neither side can quibble. It got Fort Worth in the national news for something besides our mind-numbingly long summers, our sometimes-killer tornadoes, or being forever and famously known as the place where former-Baptist Sunday School teacher Willie Nelson lit up his first of countless joints.

      Before the November 5th election, Fort Worth was ground zero for  Voter-ID-law news. Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis' signing of an affidavit when she voted early and former Speaker of the House Jim Wright's problems getting a state-issued personal identification card both made national news.

      Besides getting Fort Worth in the news, the above stories are illustrative of the consequences of Texas' new voter-ID law that was concocted in the same ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council)-mad science laboratories that gave us those brilliant stand-your-ground laws.

      The law's supporters argue that requiring ID ensures the integrity of elections by stopping voter fraud, but according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan public policy and law institute, "photo-ID laws are effective only in preventing individuals from impersonating other voters at the polls -- an occurrence more rare than getting struck by lightning."

If the state legislature had to follow truth-in-packaging laws, the Voter-ID law would be rightly named "The Let's Keep Texas Red a Few More Years Law," since its real raison d'être is to hold back the inevitable demographic change in Texas as long as possible and keep Texas from turning purple or, bite your tongue, blue.

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      In an op-ed written last year, Attorney General Abbott voiced the frequent Republican talking point, "Opponents of voter ID" are "unable to produce a single Texan who would be unable to vote because of the voter-ID law." While it's difficult to figure out an unknown, namely, those who didn't show up at the polls, it's not impossible.

      As statistician and uber-nerd Nate Silver has pointed out on his FiveThirtyEight blog, "The stricter laws, like those that require photo identification, seem to decrease turnout by about 2 percent as a share of the registered voter population."

      And according to the League of Women Voter of Texas President Linda Krefting, "anywhere from 500,000 to 800,000 voters" would "not be able to present the proper identification. The concern we have is that all this flap in the news" about the voter-ID law "may" end up "discourag[ing] people from turning out at the polls."

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      Though while the law affects Democrats more than Republicans, since minorities and the poor, more likely-Democratic voters, are disproportionately less likely to have the necessary ID, it also suppresses some likely Republican votes, as well. If former Speaker Jim Wright was not a lifelong Democrat, his demographic -- an elderly white male living in Tarrant County -- trust me, absolutely screams Republican voter.

      That obvious fact was lost on some hereabouts who accused Speaker Wright of faking his problems getting proper ID for the election-identification certificate or EIC. These conspiracy theorists are undoubtedly unschooled in the EIC's rather stringent requirements. Texas Observer columnist Cindy Casares joked that "the list of documentation needed for an EIC is less complicated than the tax code but not by much."

      First you have to prove you're a US citizen, then you have to prove your identity by toting a grab bag of ID's, and of course, if your name on any these documents doesn't exactly match, you have to bring your marriage license, court order, or a divorce decree. I don't know about you, but having been married for 28 years, I couldn't put my hands on my marriage license if my life depended on it.

      And while the certificate is free, all that documentation isn't and can cost beaucoups  of time, too. A certified copy of your birth certificate runs you $23 in Harris County, while marriage licenses or divorce decrees will run you $20 each. Plus, the EICs are available at DPS offices in only thirteen of 254 counties in our sprawling state. Little wonder that The New York Times reported that "by Election Day, only 121 voter-identification documents had been issued statewide" in a state with 26 million people.

      But to top it off, here in the Fort the law's implementation wasn't quite ready for prime-time. One election judge in a precinct near downtown, trying to school me on the ins and outs of the law while he was attempting to finish his KFC take-out lunch, told me that if a voter showed up with an ID with a name that was "substantially similar" to what appeared on the voting rolls but the addresses were the same on both the ID and the registration card, he could decide whether to have him initial on the affidavit. WRONG!

      The next day Tarrant County Election Administrator Steve Raborn confirmed that the judge was in error. The similar addresses have nothing to do with whether to initial the affidavit. And it is not up to the judge to decide. If the names are similar, the voter still needs to initial to affirm his or her identity. PERIOD.

      When I went to vote at my regular polling place, a Knights-of-Columbus Hall, my driver's license read Kenneth Pardue, but my voter-registration card had me as Kenneth Wheatcroft-Pardue, sort of a textbook example of someone with "substantially similar" names who needed to initial the affidavit . But, inexplicably, I wasn't asked to initial anything, even when the Election Judge showed me a paper copy of the PowerPoint that Raborn had used to train them, which showed as clear as day that voters with "substantially similar" names needed to initial the affidavits.

      My own admittedly unscientific checking of polling places near where I live found a range of 0 to 2% initialing the affidavits. For comparison, it was reported that in San Antonio one-third of voters had to initial the affidavits and in Fort Bend County 40%.

      Now while I oppose the ID law, its half-ass and inconsistent implementation just shows how unserious we are about elections and voting in this country. Instead of this patchwork system plagued by partisan politics and incompetence we should take elections out of the hands of partisan legislators and make it professional, modern, and non-partisan.

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I blog at "Left-Wing Tex" from beautiful Fort Worth, Texas. Here I am a retired English-as-a-Second Language teacher. I have had poems published in a number of venues, including California Quarterly, Borderlands, The Texas (more...)

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