House Republicans Open Another Front in Voter ID Fight

Four years after Texas passed one of the strictest voter ID laws in the nation, lawmakers will debate another measure on Thursday that could make it even more difficult for Texans to vote.

House Bill 1096, by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston), would require the address on a voter’s approved ID, such as a driver’s license, to match their voter registration address. Currently voter ID addresses and voter registration addresses do not have to match.

If a voter registrar believes a voter’s residence is different from that indicated on registration records, the registrar may send the voter a residence confirmation notice. Voters can respond by submitting a signed response confirming their residence.

Under HB 1096, voters would have to provide “evidence” that their residence address matches their voter ID.

Critics argue that requiring voters to have updated addresses on their IDs would be another burden on poor and minority voters, who move often and tend to vote for Democrats.

“Currently no one is being denied the right to vote because they just moved,” said Texas Democratic Party Executive Committee Member Glen Maxey. “This bill would change that. Despite the rhetoric about voter integrity, efforts like HB 1096 are simply an exercise in voter suppression. Some people are trying to kick certain people off voter rolls who don’t look like them.”

Laying out his bill in committee, Murphy said the intent of the measure is simply to ensure that voters will reside and vote in the same precinct.

Jim Murphy
Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston)

But in tea party circles the bill is all about saving democracy from fraudsters.

“The game to steal elections is always afoot,” Houston Tea Party activist Kelly Horsley wrote in a March blog post about the bill.

Such fears have led to a creeping phenomenon: tea party poll watchers.

Alan Vera, chairman of one such group—the Harris County Republican Party Ballot Security Committee—testified in favor of the bill in March. Vera said his five years reviewing and challenging voter registration have shown him just how bad Texas election law is.

With a healthy dose of indignation in his voice, Vera said when it comes to the election code “Texas is F Troop, and I’m tired of being F Troop.”

Although voter fraud is an infrequent problem, Republicans in the Legislature went to extraordinary lengths to pass Texas’ voter ID law in 2011. It requires voters to present an approved form of photo identification, such as a driver’s license or concealed handgun license, to vote. The name on the ID must exactly match the name on the list of registered voters. If the names are “substantially similar,” the person can still cast a ballot by signing an affidavit. Wendy Davis, Leticia Van de Putte and Greg Abbott all had to sign affidavits in 2013. If the names are not substantially similar, the voter may have to vote “provisionally” and go to the local voter registrar’s office within six days to present an approved photo ID. Simple!

HB 1096 could have repercussions for at least one member of the Elections Committee. Freshman Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) says his wife voted in House District 21 last fall, but according to documents obtained by the Observer the address listed on her driver’s license is in the adjacent House District 22, represented by Democratic Rep. Joe Deshotel (R-Beaumont). An honest mistake perhaps, but indicative of where updating driver’s license addresses falls on many Texans’ priority list.

Phelan says he and his family moved into District 21 in October 2013. “I don’t know if my wife has updated her driver’s license. She should have changed it. I don’t know if she has or hasn’t.”

Maxey says that HB 1096, just like the 2011 voter ID law, targets poor, minority, elderly and disabled Texans.

“In America you think that every citizen would be eligible to vote, even people who move a lot,” Maxey said. “Texas is going the opposite way. If you’re not smart enough, or with it enough to know you need the right address on your driver’s license to vote, then fuck you.”

Corrected: The original version of this story stated that Ms. Phelan voted in House District 22 but her license indicates an address in House District 21. In fact, Ms. Phelan voted in House District 21, which Rep. Phelan represents, but her license indicates an address in House District 22. The story also stated that Rep. Phelan moved into House District 21 in August 2014, He says he moved into his district in October 2013. The Observer regrets the error.

John Savage is a writer based in Austin.

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Published at 11:19 am CST