No one expected a lot of surprises in House’s voter ID debate yesterday. For years, state Republicans have wanted to require photo identification before voters cast a ballot. Now with a supermajority, the bill’s successful passage was never in question. But that didn’t mean there weren’t any surprises. State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, offered an amendment that might actually have negative impacts on Republican candidates.
Conventional wisdom goes that voter ID legislation benefits Republicans. While supporters argue the bill will ensure the “integrity” of the process, there are no actual instances of in-person voting fraud (the only type of fraud such legislation will guard against.) Meanwhile, poor voters, minority voters—folks who are likely to support Democrats—are the ones who are least likely to have required identification. And should this version become law, it would be the most stringent version of all, with no non-photo alternatives and little time for those casting a provisional ballot to bring in proper ID. The more stringent the legislation, the more partisan the bill.
Well, except when it comes to the elderly. Elderly voters are the one group that both leans Republican and may lack proper identification. So not surprisingly, the original version of the voter ID bill exempted those over 70 from the requirements. After all, many folks over 70 no longer have a valid driver’s license, the most common form of ID. Texas doesn’t make it easy for the elderly to keep driving—the elderly must renew their licenses more frequently and take eye exams. Without a driver’s license, many would not think to get another type of photo ID. From a partisan perspective, it made sense to exempt the group without ID that would cast a GOP ticket.
Evidently that didn’t sit right with Rep. Bonnen. The hardline conservative, who has voted against last year’s version of the bill for not being extreme enough, offered an amendment to get rid of the elderly exemption. Dozens of his Republican colleagues signed on to the amendment and because the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, didn’t object, there was no vote.
But that didn’t stop Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, who questioned Bonnen on the bill. “That seems to be a little insensitive to a pretty large group of folks,” he told Bonnen.
When the two men established that Veasey’s 98 year-old grandmother, who no longer drives, would be unable to vote unless she gets a new form of identification soon, Bonnen smirked a bit. “That’s what’s good about us passing this law now,” he said. “She’ll have plenty of notice.”
The move indicates just how committed some Republicans are to the idea of a voter ID bill that’s as tough as possible. After all, they had the votes. The amendment could be yet another roadblock to getting an okay from the Department of Justice on the measure. As I’ve written before, Texas must get preclearance and this bill won’t be an easy pass.
In the meantime, Veasey’s grandmother might be in for her own surprise.