I spent 40 minutes online trying to figure out how to apply for an election identification certificate, one of the new forms of identification that I could use if my state’s new voter ID requirements are upheld. I’m no Internet expert, but I can Google as well as the next person and I had no luck finding information on how to get an election identification certificate. Maybe if I would have put in some more Internet search time, or tracked down someone at the Texas elections department I would have gotten the information I needed. But why should I, or any of my fellow Texans, have to go through this effort to fix a voting problem that doesn’t exit?
Under current Texas law I can vote if I present my voter registration certificate, which should arrive in the mail prior to a given election. But in case I don’t receive the certificate or I misplace it I can still vote as long as I have a picture ID, copy of a current utility bill or paycheck with my name and address, or other document such as a birth certificate admissible in a court of law establishing my identity. In other words, if I did not have a driver’s license, or a passport or department of public safety card (all of which require a fee) I could simply use my University of Texas faculty ID or my latest energy bill.
Under the proposed law, the voter registration certificate alone is not valid. I would have to provide one of the following forms of identification: a driver’s license, a department of public safety personal identification card, a U.S. citizenship certificate, a U.S. passport, or a license to carry a concealed handgun. All of these forms require some sort of payment. A military ID can also be used, but it is only available to, well members of the military. So if I’m not in the military, I don’t drive or carry a gun and don’t have a license for either one of those activities then how can I vote? Well, I could use a passport, or department of public safety personal ID card, but both of those charge a fee that right now I can’t afford. The only option I’m left with is the election identification certificate, which I am hoping is free, but I don’t know for sure since as I described earlier I couldn’t figure out how to apply for and receive.
One of the main arguments in support of the more restrictive voter ID law is that the vast majority of Texas voters have a driver’s license or passport. Sure, I won’t argue with that, but what about the close to 1.5 million Texas voters that do not have those forms of ID and the financial and/or logistical ability to secure the documents for the proposed new law? And it’s not a good sign when a political science professor and political junkie such as myself can’t readily figure out how to secure an election identification certificate—one of the new identification forms under the proposed Texas voter ID law.
Now, I wouldn’t have a problem with the new identification restrictions if there were evidence of a systematic problem with electoral fraud. If electoral fraud did indeed exist then the benefits of maintaining the integrity of our electoral system could be seen in the context of offsetting the increased costs of voting. But there isn’t a systematic problem. At least there is no institutional electoral problem that needs fixing through more stringent ID requirements. What there is, however, is evidence that these new requirements would suppress the vote for the poor, the elderly, and students. In the absence of a problem, the proposed voter ID law ends up doing more harm than good and ironically creating the real problem of voter suppression.
Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto, NBCLatino contributor, Senior Analyst for Latino Decisions and Fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, at Austin.