The Senate came in at 8 a.m. to begin discussing voter ID legislation from state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay. After more than three-and-a-half hours of discussion, senators have yet to hear from a single witness on the topic.
That’s not to say it hasn’t been exciting. It took all of about 10 minutes for Democrats to begin hammering Fraser on his bill. Among a barrage of questions, state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, reminded Fraser that a debate occurred around the same time two years ago; Republicans have been arguing for several years that such legislation is needed to restore public confidence in voting and stamp out whatever voter fraud may be out there. “Another song, another round,” Van De Putte said with a smile.
While this bill is undoubtedly of the same genre, it’s a decidedly different “song” than the voter ID bill debated last session. But this bill is not the same one that Fraser advanced in the 2009 session. The bill the Senate passed last session—before House Democrats killed it—was modeled on a Georgia bill. It took a less-stringent approach, allowing those without photo ID to present two non-photo alternatives. It also counted expired state driver’s licenses among acceptable IDs.
Not so with Fraser’s Senate Bill 14. This year’s version of voter ID is modeled after an Indiana bill and takes a more stringent approach to the policy. Under the new bill, voters would have to have some form of photo identification—no alternatives. Like Indiana’s law, Fraser’s bill does make procuring a driver’s license or other state ID free. (Neither version allows for an affidavit to substitute for an actual ID.)
The shift is significant. Democrats, most of whom oppose such legislation, have long argued that it will suppress voter turnout, particularly in minority and elderly populations. Georgia’s law got okay-ed by the Department of Justice before it was implemented. The Supreme Court upheld the Indiana law—but Indiana is in a different position than Texas.
Georgia and Texas are both singled out in the Voting Rights Act Section 5. Like the other seven states singled out in Section 5, Texas and Georgia both have histories of discriminatory election law—poll taxes, literacy tests, etc. The Voting Rights Act requires that these states must get clearance from the Department of Justice before implementing certain changes to their election law.
As Fraser has repeatedly pointed out, Georgia’s voter ID bill passed that increased level of scrutiny from the DOJ and Indiana’s bill got a Supreme Court stamp. But this bill is even more restrictive than Indiana’s bill. For instance, in Indiana, student IDs from state universities may be used, so long as shows a name, photo and expiration date. Not so in the current bill. Fraser limited acceptable identification to driver’s licenses, military identification, citizenship certificates (that have a photo) and passports. Furthermore, in Indiana, voters who came to the polls without proper ID have ten days to furnish one. In Texas, that window would be cut down to six days.
Then there are the state’s rural communities, many of which are quite a distance from an ID-producing Public Safety office. The Department of Justice could well ask whether it’s unduly burdensome to ask such residents to drive hours to procure the ID.
Until it goes to the Department of Justice for “pre-clearance,” we won’t know how this bill measures up to DOJ regulations. But given the vast Republican majorities in the House and Senate, it will almost undoubtedly pass in some form or another. That is, if the Democrats ever stop questioning Fraser.