Weekly Voting Rights News Update
By Erin Ferns
As we count down to the new year – a time when the Supreme Court will weigh-in on the voter ID debate and we will cast ballots for the next president of the United States – Texas lawmakers continue to aggressively present the alleged issue of non-citizens voting. This week, voter ID was added to the list of topics to be studied by the House State Affairs Committee for the 2009 legislative session, an action deemed a partisan ploy to reintroduce the “discriminatory and divisive” legislation of 2007. Stirring the so-called voter fraud plot in Texas to greater heights, a coalition of legislators requested Secretary of State Phil Wilson “implement more stringent proof of citizenship requirements before casting a ballot in Texas” in November 2008.
In a letter to Wilson, a group of 13 lawmakers representing the Texas Conservative Coalition said the state policy “'to simply accept an applicant's mere assertion'” of U.S. citizenship “'has always been unacceptable, but it is time that it is scrapped.'”
“We're hoping he'll come up with his own initiative,” Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) said. “One that, hopefully, won't require legislation.”
The group asked Wilson to implement a plan to require voter ID before the 2008 general election to identify new registrants as U.S. citizens, suggesting the cross-checking of information between several databases, according to Phil Riddle of the Weatherford Democrat Tuesday.
Last spring, King introduced, HB 626, a bill requiring election officials to verify citizenship of every new applicant for voter registration. Despite fears of voter disenfranchisement, the bill passed the House, but died in the Senate. The state is one of 19 to introduce legislation requiring proof-of-citizenship at registration since 2004 – the same time the partisan driven issue of voter fraud emerged as a way to institutionalize voter suppression efforts. Arizona is the only state in which citizens voted to pass such a law through the much contested Proposition 200.
“I thought it was a no-brainer,” King said. “I was called a bigot and called out for trying to limit minority voting rights. There was a bitter fight on the floor of the House.”
Proof-of-citizenship requirements have been found to disenfranchise legitimate voters, particularly low income and female citizens. A field experiment conducted by Project Vote in the summer of 2006 found 30% of individuals who identified themselves as citizens and wanted to register did not have proof of citizenship with them in their homes. Polling data by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law also explains how such registration requirements create obstacles to voting:
- 13 million individuals do not have ready access to documentation passports, naturalization papers, or birth certificates.
- 12% of citizens earning less than $25K do not have ready documentation.
- Less than half (48%) of voting age women with ready access to birth certificates have them with current, legal name.
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Although HB 626 died in the 80th Legislature, House Speaker Tom Craddick made assignments for the House State Affairs Committee to study voter ID for the 2009 legislative session, according to Janet Elliott of the Houston Chronicle.
“We need to ensure that only U.S. citizens who are Texas residents are voting in our Texas elections,” said Craddick. However, evidence of non-citizen voting is scarce. “Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie said the review is 'just another partisan attempt to resurrect the discriminatory and divisive' legislation,” wrote Elliott.
“Each non-citizen who votes cancels out the vote of a citizen, leading to voter disenfranchisement,” the Texas Conservative Coalition wrote in their letter to Wilson. The coalition asserts “voter fraud tied to growing numbers of illegal aliens is becoming a problem across Texas,” citing testimony of “Harris County Tax Assessor/Collector Paul Bettencourt” who told the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on House Administration that he identified 35 “foreign nationals who either applied for or received voter registration documents in 2005.”