Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Clock Is Ticking On The Texas Voter Photo ID Bill

Will the Texas House get a controversial voter photo ID bill out of committee this week, and if so, what form will it take? The clock is ticking, with the May 11 deadline to vote bills out of committee about a week away.

It seems that most in Republican leadership know that the version (SB 362) that passed in the Texas Senate on Mar 17, 2009 in a party line vote and subsequently debated in the House Elections Committee in early April has little chance of passing a full Texas House floor vote.

The version of the bill debated in the House Election Committee in April would have allowed voters, who didn't have photo ID, to presented two other forms of non-photo ID to cast a ballot. That requirement would not have been phased-in until 2013, which is after the 2011 round of redistricting scheduled to take place after the 2010 U.S. census. The bill debated in the House Elections Committee would also reportedly only take effect if lawmakers earmark $7.5 million in the 2010-11 state budget for voter registration efforts. Hundreds of Texas citizens gathered in Austin during early April to make comment before the House Elections Committee on that version of the voter photo ID bill.

House Election Committee Chairman, State Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, had been strongly suggesting that the compromise voter ID bill delayed until 2013 had at least a chance of attracting enough Democratic votes to pass the House and become law. House Republicans, however, found the compromise language unpalatable and apparently would not have even voted that compromise version of the bill out of the House committee.

So, on Wednesday, Committee Chairman Smith circulated a new very restrictive version of the Republican Voter ID bill that absolutely requires voters to present a government issued Photo ID before being allowed to cast a regular ballot. This new revised language is vastly different from the legislative language opened for public comment by the House committee in April. Gone are the alternative provisions for the two other non-photo forms of ID, the $7.5 million for voter registration efforts and the 2013 phase-in.

The new restrictive voter ID language makes an absolute requirement for a government issued photo ID that would be become effective in 2011. Smith's last minute maneuvers to immediately mandate photo ID for Texas voters comes after 71 House Republicans signed a statement of principles indicating that any Voter ID legislation must require voters to present photo IDs, without exception, at the "next possible uniform election date," this year.

Listen to the this May 1, 2009 Texas Public Radio Report made before Chairman Smith started circulating the more restrictive bill.

Committee Chairman Smith could schedule a "bums rush" vote on the new restrictive voter Id bill in House Elections Committee at any moment without debate or additional public comment to pass it out of the House Committee and onto the House floor for a vote. The House Elections Committee would likely vote to pass the bill out of committee in a probable party line vote of 5 Republicans for and 4 Democrats against the bill.

House Democrats are asking for prudence and additional public input on this new last minute version of the legislation. Thirty-three Democrats who are chairmen and vice chairmen of House committees sent a memo to GOP House Speaker Joe Straus and Committee Chairman Smith, on Wednesday calling for a new committee hearing on the more restrictive voter photo identification legislation. "While some components of the bill may have been discussed previously in committee, the public has not had an opportunity to give voice to their opinions regarding the comprehensive new bill," the memo states. "This is only prudent, given the Voting Rights Act and the impact of this bill on every citizen in Texas."

Requiring voters to present a government-issued photo ID to vote is a flawed solution to a made-up problem. Republican maneuvering has every appearance of a disparate scheme devised to stack the deck in favor of Republicans in the 2010 legislative elections. Republicans are anxious to maintain control of the Texas House and Senate to give them the upper hand in the federal and state redistricting decisions that the Legislature is scheduled to make in 2011 following the 2010 U.S. census.
The Texas photo Voter ID bill is part of the Republican agenda to keep Republicans in office by suppressing the vote of groups that tend to vote Democratic. In the 10 states that have already passed voter picture ID laws, voter participation is down about 3 percent. However, black and Hispanic voter participation is down more than 10 percent in those states. The success of Democratic voter registration drives among these Texas groups in 2008 threatens to tip the balance of power away from Republican candidates in future elections. As the tide of Democratic voters continues to grow across Texas, voter ID legislation would be an effective way for Republicans to hold back the tide.
There is a chance the bill will not pass in a House floor vote given Republicans hold only a slim 76-74 majority in the House and two of those Republicans sided with Democrats against a similar bill in the 2007 legislative session. It is notable that only 71 of the 76 House Republicans signed the "statement of principles" letter calling for the restrictive photo ID measure. To date, most of the 74 House Democrats oppose a restrictive voter photo ID requirement, but Rep. Joe Heflin, a Democrat who sits on the elections committee has reportedly said he is leaning toward supporting a photo ID law.

Call Elections Committee Chairman Todd Smith and ask him why Republicans are making photo Voter ID the highest priority when there is no evidence of voter fraud, even after Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott's $1.4 million two year investigation attempting to locate voter fraud failed to identify anything more than 26 cases where people forgot to sign and address the absentee ballot envelope:

Contact Information:

Call Rep. Todd Smith, Chairman of House Committee on Elections, at his capitol phone number (512) 463-0522 or write him an email - link to email form - or do both!

Elections Committee Contact Information:
Rep. Betty Brown (R) Capitol office: (512) 463-0458 Link to email form
Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R) Capitol office: (512) 463-0727 Link to email form
Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R) Capitol office: (512) 463-0564 Link to email form
Rep. Linda Harper-Brown (R) Capitol office: (512) 463-0641 Link to email form
Vice Chair Aaron Pena (D) Capitol office: (512) 463-0426 Link to email form
Rep. Alma Allen (D) Capitol office: (512) 463-0744 Link to email form
Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) Capitol office: (512) 463-0746 Link to email form
Rep. Joe Heflin (D) Capitol office: (512) 463-0604 Link to email form

Click here to see members of the House Elections Committee.

Write a letter to your local newspaper editor

Read more at: Take Action - Photo Voter ID Bill Up For House Committee Vote

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