[This article now cross-published by The Progressive...]
Former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright (D) was denied a Photo ID for voting purposes in Texas over the weekend by the state's Department of Public Safety (DPS).
The 90-year old Wright, who is lucky enough to have an assistant to drive him to and from the DPS office, says that while he believes he'll be able to get an ID in time to vote in this Tuesday's election, he's concerned the state's "unduly stringent requirements on voters" will reduce turnout.
According to the Star-Telegram, Wright's driver's license expired in 2010 and --- because he no longer drives --- he didn't bother to renew it. That expired license, he learned Saturday, is not good enough to obtain a Photo ID to vote under the law TX Republicans passed in 2011. That law will be in effect, for the first time, on Tuesday. The state statute had previously been nixed just last year by the U.S. Dept. of Justice and by a 3-judge federal court panel after being found discriminatory, in violation of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), as based on statistics supplied by the state itself.
Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court gutting a key provision of the VRA over the summer, however, Texas announced the law would finally be enforced for the upcoming election.
Wright is hardly the only well known figure to be stung so far by the Lone Star State Republicans' purposely disenfranchising law. And the hoops that many voters --- even ones like Wright, who says he's voted in every single election since 1944 --- must now jump through in order to have a chance at their vote even being counted at all, is remarkable...
Last month in Corpus Christi, for example, 117th District Court Judge Sandra Watts was forced to sign an affidavit when trying to vote early, after the name on her driver's license didn't match the one she was registered under. Her driver's license included her maiden name as her middle name, as once required by Texas law, but her voter registration didn't. "What I have used for voter registration and for identification for the last 52 years was not sufficient yesterday when I went to vote," she explained to local media. The name on her license had been the same for 52 years, and she's voted in every election for the last 49. "This is the first time I've ever had a problem voting," she said.
Texas' 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis ran into a similar problem recently when she tried to vote, as did the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has been defending the state's Photo ID law against several law suits, including one by the U.S. Department of Justice (which he should likely lose, given what the courts have already determined about the state's discriminatory law.)
But at least those three were allowed to cast their vote, even if they had to take extra time to sign an affidavit (a potential very serious problem in a large turnout election, where lines are likely to get exponentially longer thanks to the new law.)
For those without a state-issued Photo ID deemed proper under the new law, things will be much worse.
Former U.S. House Speaker Wright's assistant, Norma Ritchson, told the Star-Telegram that she's concerned the law will make it much harder for elderly voters to vote at all.
"I've been thinking about the people who are in retirement homes," Ritchson told the paper. "I've read that this is the lowest early voter turnout in a long time and I wonder if this [ID requirement] is the cause. We've tried so hard to make voting easy, and now the Texas Legislature has made it harder by making you have a photo ID."
Wright, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years until resigning in 1989, told the paper, "From my youth I have tried to expand the elections...I pushed to abolish the poll tax. I was the first to come out for lowering the voting age to 18."
But now, he's fighting to cast his own vote at all in Texas. The details the Star-Telegram supplies for the hoops that Texans without the proper state-issued Photo IDs must jump through now is astounding.
Remember, Wright had a TX drivers license, but if a license has been expired more than two months under the new law, it can no longer be used for voting purposes.
If one can manage to get to a DPS office --- some Texans live as far as 250 miles from an office, and 81 of 254 counties in the state don't even have one --- here's what a legal voter will have to do acquire the supposedly "free" state-issued Election Identification Certificate (EIC), according to the paper...
Along with the birth certificate, people need to show two other pieces of identification — such as a driver license expired less than two years, a voter registration card, school records, military records or a Social Security card — to get the EIC.
Update: Please note that the Texas DPS charges $22 for birth certificates online, and does not notify purchasers of any discount when certificates are needed only for voter ID verification purposes. Passports cost more than $100.
So, even if you can afford to get to the DPS office (these are folks without a valid state driver's license, after all), and even if you can afford the time and money to purchase a certified copy of your birth certificate, you'll still have to come up with two additional pieces of documentation to prove you are you.
Remember, these are often voters, such as former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright, who have been voting in the same place, without problems --- until now --- for decades.
Remember also that in 1966, in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, the U.S. Supreme Court found that even a poll tax of just $1.50 is in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Writing for the 6 to 3 majority, Justice William O. Douglas observed in that case:
We say the same whether the citizen, otherwise qualified to vote, has $1.50 in his pocket or nothing at all, pays the fee or fails to pay it. The principle that denies the State the right to dilute a citizen's vote on account of his economic status or other such factors, by analogy, bars a system which excludes those unable to pay a fee to vote or who fail to pay.
Without the state-issued Photo ID that TX Republicans now require for voting there, one may still cast a provisional ballot. For that ballot to be counted, however, an otherwise legal voter --- even one who showed ID when registering, as is already required in all 50 states under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 --- will have just six days to round-up and/or pay for the needed documents to attain an EIC and figure out how to get that information to the county elections office in order to validate their ballot in hopes that it will then be properly counted.
Based on data supplied by Texas [PDF] to the federal government last year, as many as 800,000 registered voters in Texas do not have the type of ID now required to vote in the state. The U.S. Dept. of Justice found last year that those rates are disproportionately higher for minority voters.
Yet, in 2012, a non-partisan news consortium compiled every known election fraud case in all 50 states going back to the year 2000. Their comprehensive database identifies just 3 cases of possible voter impersonation fraud --- the only type of voter fraud that could possibly be deterred by polling place Photo ID restrictions --- out of hundreds of millions of votes cast in the Lone Star state during the same period.
As of mid-October, according to the Dallas Morning News, just 41 "free" EIC cards had been issued by the state.