Voter ID: Failed Last Stand?

Portents of a grim session for Democrats


They say you don’t know what you have till it’s gone. That may be how state Senate Democrats are feeling as they go into the debate on voter ID. This year’s version of the bill is significantly more stringent than the version Republicans brought last session. It does not allow for anyone to vote who doesn’t have a photo ID—and only four types of IDs are admissible. The only exemptions are for those over 70.

 This afternoon, senators had the opportunity to change the bill through amendments; any controversial changes to the bill will need a majority vote. Of the 15 amendments we’ve heard by 5 p.m., all were drafted by Democrats. There’s no chance this bill won’t pass in one form or another. Democratic state Sen. Carlos Uresti isn’t even here today, bringing the Democratic total to a paltry 11 of the 30 present members.

For the Democrats, who spent the last two sessions fighting against more lenient versions of the same measure, one goal today is to soften the impact as much as possible and try to make this session’s bill more like those of years past.

 The other goal is to raise a little hell.

 The hell is easier to come by than Republican support. Already we’ve seen one amendment from state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, that would have deleted the entire bill. Instead of requiring photo identification to vote, it added a new section to the election code making fraudulent voting a first-degree felony. Not shockingly, the amendment failed on a party-line vote. Similarly, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, offered an amendment to allow affidavits to substitute for an actual photo ID. That found no favor with GOP senators.

Attempts to soften the bill aren’t getting support, either. Most tellingly, state State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, offered an amendment that would have allowed for two non-photo alternatives for individuals without a photo ID. That measure was in last session’s voter ID bill. Now it’s not tough enough—the Senate’s Republicans voted the measure down.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, offered amendments to allow married or divorced women to sign affidavits if their current last name has been altered. Failed. She sought to allow expired driver’s licenses to count as admissible identification. Failed. Of the 16 amendments heard so far, the only ones to gain traction have been those to specify details of the signs and notifications.

For Senate Democrats, this may be a sign of a total inability to change legislation. Today is likely the last chance to moderate the bill. Since the November election brought in an unprecedented class of hardline conservatives to the House, almost any voter ID measures should be easy to pass there, no matter how restrictive. House Democrats would have to persuade 27 Republicans to vote with them. In the Senate, only five Republicans need to switch over. For now, Senate has become the closest thing to a centrist body.

The current voter ID bill is one of the most conservative versions in the country. If this debate is any indication, soon Texas will hold the “most conservative” title in quite a few policy areas.