Texans who oppose the 2011 Voter ID law signed by Rick Perry will finally get their day in court. As of yesterday District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has started hearing testimony from both sides of this issue. On the one side you have Republicans asserting that a picture voter ID requirement will uphold the integrity of the election process while Democrats say it’s a straw man argument that will negatively impact voter turn out for minorities and women who tend to vote Democratic.
The office of state Attorney General Greg Abbot, who is running for governor this year, told one news agency that “Voter ID has already been used in several elections in Texas without the disenfranchisement claimed by partisans who seem to be against election integrity.” Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson has contested that claim stating last year that “Studies have shown that voter fraud is non-existent in Texas.”
Technically both sides are wrong. There actually have been cases where the Voter ID law prevented some Texans from having their votes counted. Two-hundred in 17 counties to be exact. And though the number of voter fraud cases in the state over the last decade have been statistically infinitesimal there were, according to Abbot’s office “18 convictions, no-contest pleas or guilty pleas on voter fraud charges from 2002 through 2012.”
So with numbers so small as to be insignificant why are Texans being asked to pay millions in cost to assure that everyone has a state-approved picture ID before they can cast their vote?
Though there seem to be no figures currently available for the state of Texas, other states who have passed similar laws do provide data that would illustrate what is expected of the tax payer.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice estimated costs for the state of Missouri run as high as $6 million for the first year, “followed by recurring costs of approximately $4 million per year.” In Indiana similar needs are projected to cost tax payers at least $1.3 million, “with an additional revenue loss of nearly $2.2 million”. In Minnesota, actions necessary to meet minimum requirements to effect a voter ID law will run around $786,000. Based on current state budgets these amounts may seem small but at a time when critical needs in education and health care are being undermined by proponents of deep tax cuts, wouldn’t this money be better spent where it could do the most good? And there’s yet to be determined the expense of defending this dubious law in a federal court.
Texas’ Hidden Obstacles to “free” Photo ID Cards
In order for the state ‘s Voter ID law to meet Constitutional muster it must provide 1) photo IDs sufficient for voting free of charge for all those who do not have them, 2) photo IDs that are readily accessible to all voters, without undue burden, and 3) states must undertake substantial voter outreach and public education efforts to ensure that voters are apprised of the law’s requirements and the procedures for obtaining the IDs they will need to vote.
As a citizen of Texas I can tell you that the first two criteria will work against poorer people in our state. In the Lone Star state free photo ID cards can only be obtained at Department of Public Safety (DPS)offices. As the Texas population has grown the number of DPS offices have not kept pace. In effect then “the number of available offices has declined, making the task of getting an I.D. more formidable (especially for people in rural areas).” The new law also requires both proof of citizenship and proof of identity. One form does not necessarily supply the second requirement as this site illustrates. Needless to say poor indigents will find it difficult to cough up the necessary money to ensure that they will ultimately qualify for their “free” voter ID photo card.
Let’s hope Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos takes all of the relevant factors into consideration when she makes her decision some two to three weeks from now