After six years of fierce partisan battling, the legislative war over voter ID in Texas is officially over.
Gov. Rick Perry signed the voter ID bill into law this morning. The legislation requires voters to present one of five acceptable forms of photo ID—a drivers license, military ID, passport, concealed handgun license or a special voter ID card provided free of charge by the state. Gov. Perry designated voter ID as an “emergency item” early in the session, giving it particular priority as lawmakers rushed it through the legislative process.
“This simple action, no more complicated then cashing a check down at the HEB or applying for a library card down the street, will appropriately help maintain the integrity and fairness of our electoral system here in the Lone Star State,” Gov. Perry said at the signing.
More than 30 Republican House members and senators packed the small reception room in the Capitol to witness the event. Gov. Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker of the House Joe Straus heaped praise and thanks on the assembled lawmakers for their hard work. “This is what democracy is all about,” Perry said, acknowledging the crowd.
Democrats, of course, would disagree. For them, this day is a historic loss. Democrats have been fighting voter ID legislation since it was first purposed in 2005, arguing that it would disenfranchise poor and minority voters who traditionally vote Democratic. Republicans argued that voter ID legislation was needed to prevent voter fraud. But Democrats see it as a ploy to give the GOP an edge in elections.
Although outnumbered in the Legislature, Democrats succeeded in blocking voter ID bills for three straight sessions. However, this session—with Republicans holding a two-thirds majority in the House—they simply didn’t have the numbers to stop the GOP juggernaut from forcing the bill into law.
The bill signed today enacts a voter ID law more stringent than its counterparts in other states. Unlike Indiana’s law—which the bill was largely based on—Texas’ voter ID law doesn’t recognize student IDs as acceptable forms of voter identification and it gives people with a missing an ID only six days to produce one in order for their vote to count.
Critics suspect that provisions in the bill may be challenged in federal courts. Due to its history of discriminatory voting practices like poll taxes and literacy tests, Texas is one of nine states that, according to the Voting Rights Act, must first clear any significant election law changes with the U.S. Department of Justice.
“I would not be surprised, given Texas’ history, if it is not pre-cleared.” Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project said. “And there is no doubt that this will result in litigation if it becomes law. It’s just a question of whose going to file it and when.”
The signing of the bill this morning is a symbolic end to the long feud between Texas Democrats and Republicans over voter ID legislation. But the real battle may be just beginning.