AUSTIN — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis doesn’t have one. Her Republican rival Attorney General Greg Abbott doesn’t have an ID that matches his voter registration, either. Like thousands of Texas voters during early voting, they have to initial an affidavit swearing to their identity.
Texas’ new Voter ID law is getting its first statewide test during the constitutional amendment election that concludes Tuesday. Minority groups spent two years fighting the law, but now that it’s in place, minority politicians have called on supporters to make sure they have the right ID cards.
But some didn’t get the message. Statistics obtained by The Associated Press show more than 5 percent of voters potentially do not have a valid ID to vote, and these people live disproportionately in counties with high poverty rates or a large percentage of minorities.
While many ID mismatches are easily resolved, civil rights groups worry about married women who have changed their name on one card but not the other, and minorities who have complex naming traditions, particularly Hispanics.
“With our culture and the adoption and assimilation of our names to incorporate family names from both parents, often times those are not reflected on official documents,” said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. “This could be as little as a hyphen to perhaps an initial to perhaps an entire different name. ... This will have a disproportionate impact on communities of color.”
In preparation for Election Day, the Department of Public Safety extended Saturday services to issue free election identification certificates that can be used to vote. The Texas Democratic Party has set up a website for voters to report any problems they encounter, and civil rights groups will closely examine voter data for evidence that the law disproportionately impacted minority voters.
The law adds a new step to the voting process by requiring election judges to check one of seven government-issued photo ID cards before allowing someone to vote. Whenever there is a mismatch between the election rolls and the ID, an election judge will decide if the information is “substantially similar” enough to allow them to cast a regular ballot. Supporters say the law stops election fraud, while opponents say it disenfranchises the poor and elderly who can’t afford to obtain IDs.
If an election judge decides an ID doesn’t match the voter registration card, or the voter has no ID, the voter can still cast a provisional ballot, but it is only counted if they bring a valid ID to a county voter office within six days.
In Abbott’s case his license has his full name, Gregory Wayne Abbott, while his voter registration says Greg Abbott. For Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth, her driver’s license includes her maiden name Russell, but her voter card does not.
“I signed the affidavit and was able to vote with no problem,” Davis said, expressing concern about women who may face similar discrepancies. “I hope we will continue to see women vote as they have in Texas.”
No major issues
Early voting ended Friday, with the latest data from Thursday showing 256,000 voters casting ballots.
So far no major issues have been reported and the turnout has outpaced recent constitutional amendment elections, said Alicia Pierce, spokeswoman for the Texas secretary of state’s office. Such elections usually turn out about 1 million out of 13 million registered voters.
How many of those will have issues casting ballots Tuesday is unclear. The secretary of state’s office compared its voter rolls to the Department of Public Safety’s ID database and found that 94 percent of Texas voters have state-issued IDs where the Social Security number and first and last names match.
Election judges, though, don’t check the Social Security number. They look at first, middle and last name along with the street address.
So while there are six Wendy Davises registered to vote in Tarrant County who possess a state-issued ID, the senator had to sign the affidavit anyway because her middle name didn’t match.
The AP analysis of voters’ lists from every Texas county found that of the more than 13.4 million registered voters for the election, about 12.7 million had a matching DPS record using the state’s method. Counties with higher poverty rates or a higher proportion of minorities had higher rates of voters without IDs.
For example, in relatively poor Hidalgo County, where the population is 92 percent minority, more than 9 percent of voters don’t have a matching Texas ID card. In upscale Williamson County, where nearly 65 percent of the population is Anglo, only 2.7 percent of voters don’t have a matching ID. Both counties have about 250,000 voters.
In San Antonio’s predominantly Hispanic Bexar County 6.7 percent don’t have a matching DPS ID, while in majority-Anglo Tarrant County it’s 3.3 percent. In the state’s largest counties, Harris has 5 percent of voters without a DPS ID and Dallas has 5.8 percent.
Such differences led civil rights groups to file several federal lawsuits to overturn the law. A federal three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., struck it down in 2012, declaring the law would have a disproportionate effect on minority voters. But the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated that ruling when it suspended further enforcement of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Justice Department has joined the NAACP, Mexican American Legislative Caucus and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey in a new federal lawsuit asking the court to overturn the law. That case is expected to go to trial next year.