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“Maintaining Its Sad Tradition Of Disenfranchisement”: Texas Lawmakers Are Busy Making It Harder To Vote

Another legislative session, another unfortunate attempt by Texas politicians to make it harder to vote. While other states move their registration systems into the 21st century — by putting the onus on the government to add eligible voters to the rolls, or letting citizens sign up online, for example — Texas maintains its sad tradition of disenfranchisement.

One measure (HB 1096) that would make it more difficult for voters to confirm their residency recently cleared the House. Another bill approved by the Senate (SB 1934) would eliminate nonexpiring photo identification cards for the state’s senior citizens. Because unexpired photo IDs or IDs that have been expired no more than 60 days are required to vote, this change would make it even harder for Texas seniors to get their ballots counted. Do we really need to wonder why lawmakers are making these changes?

While some legislators have introduced bills this session to help voters, these bills have largely gone nowhere. A bill that would issue no-charge birth certificate copies to some Texans under a limited set of circumstances passed the Senate, but the law, if passed, would help only a fraction of disenfranchised voters. This is not enough. Texas deserves a Legislature that will take action to ensure that the voices of all eligible voters are heard, rather than putting up more obstacles to the ballot box.

In 2011, Texas enacted the nation’s strictest voter ID law. It permits use of limited types of photo IDs to vote, and the ID must be current or recently expired. To obtain nearly every form of acceptable ID, an original or certified copy of a voter’s birth certificate is required. Hundreds of thousands of registered Texas voters lack the ID or supporting documents needed to meet these stringent requirements.

While Texans of all ages have felt the negative impact of the photo ID law, the burden on the state’s seniors is particularly acute. Older voters are less likely to have a current driver’s license — because many no longer drive — and are more likely to find it difficult or downright impossible to obtain a birth certificate. Many live in long-term care facilities and, because of health or liability issues, are unable to travel to renew their IDs, or are understandably overwhelmed by the required paperwork. Cutting nonexpiring state IDs for seniors would only exacerbate these burdens.

So far, two federal courts have stepped in to block the Texas ID law because it disenfranchises Latino and African-American voters. Last year, a federal court in Texas found the law not only had the effect of discriminating against minority voters but also that the Legislature passed the law with the intent of making it harder for voters of color to cast a ballot. The case is now before a federal appellate court. During oral arguments, a Republican-appointed judge pointedly asked Texas’ attorney why the Legislature hasn’t taken the opportunity to fix the problems with the photo ID law. The lawyer had no response when the judge asked why it should fall to the court to fix the law, when legislators have had years to do so.

The numbers show that some legislators have had ample opportunity to help voters. This legislative session alone, there have been at least 17 bills introduced to ameliorate the strict voter ID law. Bills that would allow expired government-issued IDs to be accepted for voting and others that would expand the list of acceptable IDs have not gotten so much as a public hearing. The Legislature has instead chosen to expend more energy on changes that would make voting even more difficult.

Bills to soften the draconian photo ID law are not the only voter-friendly measures Texas legislators have left on the table. At least 28 other bills have been introduced that would expand access to the ballot. These efforts range from proposals that would make it easier for voters to update their registration to legislation that would increase language access for voters whose primary language is not English. Nearly all of these bills have received no legislative attention.

While a proposal that would have allowed Texans to register through a secure online portal did manage to at least get a public hearing, legislators expressed skepticism that the modernizing reform — which has been successfully adopted by nearly 30 other states — could be done in Texas. They promptly killed the bill.

Given Texas’ sordid history of manipulating the right to vote, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the Legislature is making voting harder. Texans should demand better.


By: Jennifer L. Clark and Gary Bledsoe, Cross-Posted from The Dallas Morning News; Brennan Center for Justice, May 19, 2015


May 24, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Voter ID, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congressional Residency Requirements: Home Is “Anywhere I Hang My Hat”

Of all the issues you can raise in a political campaign, the dumbest is whether a member of Congress has moved his/her family to Washington.

O.K., possibly not the absolute dumbest. There was that dust-up over whether now-Senator Rand Paul had, as a college student, kidnapped a female friend and forced her to worship “Aqua Buddha.” Although now that I’m thinking about it, I really did enjoy that one.

Right now in Indiana, Senator Richard Lugar is under fire from a Tea Party opponent who claims that Lugar has not actually lived in the state since he first entered the Senate in 1977.

“This scandal is our chance to replace one of the most liberal Republicans in the Senate with a conservative!” said a fund-raising letter for Lugar’s opponent, Richard Mourdock, the state treasurer.

Lugar is actually a pretty conservative guy himself, although he is best known for his work on nuclear disarmament, which does not appear to be a Tea Party priority. The head of the right-wing PAC, Club for Growth, called for Lugar’s defeat the other day in a statement that denounced the senator for, among other things, having supported the bailout of New York City in 1978. I call that nursing a grudge.

Most of the publicity about the race, however, centers on the residency issue. Mourdock recently held a press conference at the house where Lugar has his voting address, and it definitely did seem to be occupied by another family.

“The entire state is his home,” retorted Lugar’s campaign manager. I am taking this to be a version of “So what?”

The senator’s ability to vote from a residence he hasn’t actually lived in for decades was, the campaign said, based on the same principle that allows a member of the military to vote from the last place he or she lived before going off to fight for the country. I’m not sure this is a comparison they’d want to press.

The issue of voting addresses is particularly sensitive in Indiana, where the secretary of state, Charlie White, was recently tossed out of office after being convicted of registering to vote at his former wife’s address while he actually lived with his fiancée. White, who once worked as a family law attorney, said his private life was “complicated,” which I’m sure we’re all prepared to believe.

Indiana is clearly a state with a lot of political excitement. Just recently, its State House voted in favor of drug-testing welfare recipients, which would not be all that remarkable except that the members also voted to drug-test themselves. “We had an amendment I thought was even better requiring drug testing for all corporate welfare recipients,” said Representative Ryan Dvorak, a Democrat from South Bend. That one, unfortunately, failed on a party-line vote.

But about the residency issue. These fights have been going on forever. One of the very first political investigations I ever worked on involved whether or not a veteran congressman maintained a voting address that was actually a Burger King outlet in North Haven, Conn.

Rick Santorum’s political career was built on an upset victory against a Democratic House member who, Santorum claimed, had lost touch with his district and moved his family to the Washington suburbs. When Santorum moved his own family to the Washington suburbs, he claimed that promises he made when he was in the House didn’t count for the Senate.

Then he enrolled the kids, who were being home-schooled, in a cyberschool that billed his old school district in Pennsylvania $38,000 a year.

“My dad’s opponents have criticized him for moving us to Washington so we could be with him more,” complained one of Santorum’s kids in an ad in 2006, shortly before he lost by one of the widest margins in the history of re-election campaigns. This was the same race in which Santorum claimed that his Democratic opponent, Robert Casey, was a “thug” who sent operatives to peep through the windows of the house near Pittsburgh where the senator maintained a voting address.

“Your despicable actions have endangered our children’s safety,” Santorum and his wife wrote to Casey. A Philadelphia Daily News columnist noted that the children in question were probably not in peril since they were, you know, in Virginia the whole time.

While serving in Congress is really, truly, not the same as serving in combat, these residency flaps are generally bogus. If we want a Congress that looks at least minimally like the country at large — including women, men with working wives, and parents of young children — we can’t carp if they want to keep their families within commuting distance.

Unless, of course, you are talking about somebody who got elected in the first place by running on the residency issue. Then carp away. Please.


By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 17, 2012

February 20, 2012 Posted by | Congress, Voter Fraud | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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