AUSTIN — Exhausted after an all-night debate but assured of victory, Republicans today rammed a bill requiring Texas voters to present identification papers through the first Senate vote on the bitterly partisan issue.
After emotional pleas to stop the bill, and expert and public testimony that begin Tuesday and didn’t end until shortly before 9 a.m.today, the so-called “Voter ID” bill passed a special Senate panel 20-12.
The “committee of the whole” includes all 31 senators and Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. While the bill must still get a final Senate vote, today’s action all but assures it will pass and be sent to the House as early as Monday.
The bill is being driven by Senate Republicans over fierce opposition from Democrats, who promised a legal challenge if the bill ultimately passes.
Today’s vote included a rare vote by Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate and pushed for the bill despite the threat it would anger Democrats and split the chamber along rigid party lines.
“Regrettably, it has been made a partisan issue by some of the hardcore Democrats and hardcore Republicans,” Dewhurst said.
All 12 Senate Democrats voted against the bill.
“I think they’re running over us,” quipped John Whitmire, D-Houston. “How does it feel?”
Democrats have compared the proposal to a modern-day poll tax. Republicans say the ID requirements, which would take effect in time for the pivotal 2010 elections, are necessary to stop voter fraud.
The author of the bill, Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, conjured up images of the old Daley political machine in Chicago and of Texas’ infamous Box 13 — stuffed with votes for Lyndon Johnson in a 1948 Senate race. He says the threat is still there — from non-citizen immigrants, crooks and dead people.
“Voter fraud not only is alive and well in the United States, it’s also alive in Texas,” Fraser said when debate started. “I believe the danger of voter fraud has threatened the entire electoral process.”
While Texans already must show either a voter registration card or other identification, Republicans want to add the requirement of a photo ID or alternatives that establish identity. If a voter doesn’t have a valid photo ID — including a driver’s license, passport or military ID — they would have to produce two additional documents, including bank statements, mail from a government entity, a marriage license and cards used for obtaining government benefits.
Democrats contend the bill will disenfranchise thousands of voters by erecting paperwork hurdles that will disproportionately impact minorities, the poor, the disabled and the elderly.
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, leader of the Senate Democrats, said the measure is designed to shave about 3 to 4 percentage points off of Democratic vote totals in Texas just as the party begins to improve its statewide performance.
“This is voter suppression,” she said.
Both sides put on a series of expert witnesses during the a debate before the special “committee of the whole.” Republicans called in election officials from Georgia and Indiana, two states that require voters to produce a photo ID.
Witnesses testifying for the Democrats included civil rights experts and representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and AARP. Tova Wang, vice president of the citizen advocacy group Common Cause, said the poor would be negatively affected.
“Many poor people don’t have cars, fly or go to Blockbuster to rent the latest DVD every weekend,” Wang said. “So this whole notion that everybody’s got ID is just untrue. Many poor people don’t.”
Van de Putte complained about making members of the public wait 20 hours before being allowed to testify during the all-night affair.
“We should have treated them better,” she said.
Van de Putte called the vote a “foregone conclusion” but said Democrats wanted a record of the testimony so that it could be used in inevitable court challenges and a review by the U.S. Justice Department.
“The only thing we could do today was lose right,” she said.( Collapse )
Edit: to those of you who are saying this is 'no big deal,' you don't know Texas. Every voting measure in TX has to be approved by the Federal Government because of the state's history with discrimination.
And then you have the practicalities of this bill: though the TX DMV has said that a person can obtain an ID for purposes of voting free of charge, most workers aren't aware of it. So yes, this does result in a poll tax of sorts.
See this article, and I'll add my personal experience to it: I had the exact same troubles getting an ID in Texas a few months ago. Every form of documentation (my birth cert., current DL license from another state, TX utility bill, and more), provided was rejected, and my story was very similar to this woman's story: www.star-telegram.com/804/story/1253127.html