The U.S. Department of Justice asked Texas on Friday to provide more information on the state’s new voter ID law. The law, which passed in the Legislature this year and goes into effect Jan. 1, requires prospective Texas voters to bring valid photo ID to receive a ballot. Though flawed, this law codifies legitimate safeguards against voting fraud and the Justice Department should approve it quickly.
Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Texas is required to receive clearance from the Justice Department before the state can implement any election-related changes. This provision, which applies to a handful of mostly southern states with a history of voting discrimination, came into effect when the voter ID law passed. The department is now examining whether the ID law would negatively affect voter participation among minority groups.
Specifically, the Justice Department asked Texas to provide more information about the 605,576 registered voters who do not currently have a valid ID. Some Democrats and civil rights organizations charged that the new law unfairly targets Hispanic voters lacking such identification. The department wants to know how many of these registered voters have Spanish surnames and which counties they live in as part of its assessment.
But Hispanic voters themselves benefit from the voter ID law. Currently, anyone who can provide a copy of even a current utility bill or a bank statement with their name and a Texas address on it can vote. The new law’s list of valid photo ID would all require legal U.S. residency to be granted.
And since the U.S. government routinely deports immigrants who show up to vote in a national or statewide election, the new law will hopefully serve as a deterrent against non-citizens voting. A Hispanic immigrant may be misled into voting while not yet a citizen, only to painfully blow their shot at the American dream later on as they thought they were fulfilling a civic duty.
Naturalized and U.S.-born Hispanics should have no problems in voting. The former can still present their citizenship certificate as valid ID, whereas the latter presumably should have no more difficulty acquiring a state ID on their 18th birthday than a non-Hispanic Texan.
UT students eligible to vote in Texas elections should also have no problem complying with the law’s new rules. A Texas resident of any age can go to a DPS office and purchase a personal ID card for $16. UT students originally from out of state can also easily acquire a Texas drivers’ license or state ID if they bring a copy to DPS of the same ID from their former state of residence. And students will now be able to get a free election identification certificate if they prefer.
Detractors of the new law insist the new law strikes a blow at student voters by not accepting student IDs as valid identification. Congressman John Lewis of Georgia wrote in an Aug. 26 New York Times op-ed: “Texas also rejects student IDs but allows voting by those who have a license to carry a concealed handgun. These schemes are clearly crafted to affect not just how we vote, but who votes.”
Moses may have wandered the desert, but I spent my first semester this May trudging throughout an unfamiliar campus to get a UT student ID card. No UT student can reasonably expect to have fun waiting at a DPS office to get a state ID, but it beats finding the FAC building in 100-degree weather. And when I had to shell out $10 for my UT card, nobody complained I was paying a ‘poll tax’ for a card that should somehow ensure my state voting rights. By not accepting student IDs, Texas has eliminated a major potential avenue for voting fraud.
The theory that this new law will malign Texas seniors is as specious as the argument it could harm minorities and college students. True, the elderly are less likely to have unexpired drivers’ licenses than other voting-age groups. Yet, impaired mobility has never stopped this demographic’s status as America’s most reliable voting bloc.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a whopping 74.5 percent of Texans aged 65 to 74 who were registered voters for the November 2008 elections actually voted in that election. Less than half that percentage, or 36.6 percent, of 18- to 24-year-old registered Texan voters did the same.
Seniors, with already formidable political clout, are loath to be disenfranchised so easily. I anticipate many of them will organize transportation services to pick up ID cards from DPS offices before the March primaries. At any rate, the new law essentially waives such requirements for those 70 and older by issuing such Texans an election identification certificate that does not expire.
Democratic and civil rights organizations’ fears over this new law are overblown. And when polling organizations such as Rasmussen Reports find that around 75 percent of Americans support photo ID laws, liberals would be wise to support the new Texas law.
Quazi is a nursing graduate student.