May 03, 2005
Senate Dems kill HB1706

Thank goodness...Via Latinos for Texas, eleven Democratic Senators have signed a petition saying they will not vote to allow the Senate companion to Mary Denny's HB1706 to the floor, thus killing it for this session. The Quorum Report (Word doc) has the text of their statement, with Sen. Rodney Ellis echoing a few points you've read here. Rep. Aaron Pena notes that HB1706 had passed on its final reading by a relatively slender 78-67 margin, while Karl-T speculates (most likely accurately) that the 11 Democratic Senators did not include the DINO Ken Armbrister. Finally, Sarah notes the lone bit of good news from the Elections Committee, the approval of Rep. Pena's HB166, which would require a paper audit trail on electronic voting machines. I don't expect that to become a law, but at least it wasn't strangled in the crib like HB1348.

Since my last post on HB1706 generated so many comments, let me reiterate why I have been so shrill about it. Beyond the insulting comparison of voting to renting a video, there's the simple fact that HB1706 would have done nothing to prevent any of the problems that we know occurred in 2004. Go back to the Hartnett report on the Heflin challenge. The three main classes of disqualified voters were as follows:

1) Voters from Fort Bend County casting ballots in Harris County's HD149;

2) Voters from other State House districts within Harris County casting ballots in HD149, and;

3) Voters who turned out to have erroneous voter's registration applications.

In the first two instances, what we had was voters who were poorly served by their registrars, by their County Clerk, and/or by their local election judges. These were not cases of false identification, they were cases of mistaken voting location. If any of these voters had brought their driver's license, birth certificate, passport, and a DNA sample along with their voter's reg cards, they'd have been allowed to vote where they did just as they actually were. They were who they said they were, they were just in the wrong place because someone along the line didn't tell them otherwise. The people in the last group did things like forget to check the "I am a citizen" box, or failed to return their form on time. Again, extra identification would not have changed their status on Election Day.

Even the one case of genuine fraud that was uncovered in this election would not have been ameliorated by extra identification. Had it gone according to plan, the voters who were re-registered without their knowledge would have shown up in HD149 on Primary Day and then told to go to a precinct in HD137, where they would have cast ballots with their validly-informed voter's reg cards and their driver's licenses with matching names and addresses. Their identity would have been right; it was the County Clerk's voters roll that was supposed to have been wrong. They would have been happily waved through under Mary Denny's rules, since once again they were who they said they were, they just wouldn't have been where they were supposed to be.

The one scenario that Mary Denny keeps talking about is dead people voting. Assuming this sort of thing happens, isn't it the job of the County Clerk and/or Tax Assessor to ensure that the voter's roll is compared to the Social Security database and purged of those who no longer walk this Earth? Shouldn't we be working to make it easier for them to do their jobs if this is what concerns us? If dead people can't get registered, they can't vote anyway. Why aren't we attacking the problem where we can make the biggest difference?

And let's be honest here. Nobody's going to try to sway an election by generating a bunch of fake voter reg cards, which will then have to be handed out to a bunch of volunteers with instructions to vote often in different locations on Election Day. Too many moving parts, too little bang for the buck, too much chance of getting caught. If you're going to fix an election, you're going to do it the old-fashioned way, like they did with LBJ's infamous Box 13: You're going to bribe or blackmail an elections official to do it, assuming you yourself aren't that elections official. How else can you be sure that you've done enough to make a difference? How else can you keep the number of conspirators to a manageable amount? And how are more stringent ID requirements on voters going to affect you? Answer to that last question: Not a damn bit.

So Mary Denny's bill wouldn't have prevented any of the problems that affected the Heflin-Vo race, and it wouldn't do anything to curb real election fraud. What would it do? The one thing we can say for certain it would do is ensure that fewer people vote. Some people won't know any better and will show up on Election Day with insufficient identification. They'll be placed into Provisional Voter purgatory, and unless they take the extraordinary step of making a separate trip to the County Clerk's office to prove they are who they say they are, their vote won't count. Some people will know better and will stay home because they don't have a driver's license and think they can't vote without one. And some people will find themselves stuck on a longer line than they expected, since elections judges now have more work to do, and will give up and leave before they get to the front. All that, without any actual fraud-fighting benefit.

So yeah, this bill sucked and it deserved to die. And if I've been a little strident in my rhetoric about it, I hope this clarifies my reasons.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 03, 2005 to That's our Lege | TrackBack

Your reasons have been clear. It's just that not everyone agrees. :D

Posted by: kevin whited on May 3, 2005 11:22 PM

You forget that there were two other election contests beside Heflin/Vo, one of which fraud was proven to have occurred. While it is true that HB 1706 would not have stopped the problems in Houston, it would do a lot to stop the dead who keep voting in South Texas. Tax Assessors cannot (or in some cases refuse to) manage their lists because they have no sure way of showing who has died. A photo ID would prove a voter is who they say they are and stop the busing of "voters" from polling place to polling place to drive up turnout. Anyone who thinks there are too many moving parts to make this work hasn't been to South Texas. Sure elections officials are bribed (some are even on the campaign finance reports of candidates being paid for "GOTV"), but in many cases old fashioned trickery is used to get the "right" result. What else would explain 30 dead people voting on election day (one guy was born in 1873--photo id would have stopped that--and you can't blame the election judge--the poll list was printed using pre-y2k software which just has the last two digits of the year--73).

HB 1706 was a step in the right direction; all who support integrity in elections shuld hope it is resurrected in the closing days of session.

Posted by: Richard Arnhoult on May 4, 2005 7:55 AM

Those challenges were dropped. If there was any proof of the kind of fraud that Eric Opiela alleged, why didn't he move forward with his contest? If the issue was that he didn't have the time to gather the evidence he needed in the time frame the contest allowed, then what's keeping Mary Denny from following up? It's been four months since Opiela gave up. If Mary Denny is basing her bill on what happened to him, she's had plenty of time to make a case about it. Why hasn't she?

If Tax Assessors "refuse" to manage their voter rolls, then isn't that the real problem? Why are we not taking steps to ensure that they do their job, or are able to do their job?

As for voters being bussed from place to place, how will showing identification stop them? They'll still be who they say they are when they get to each location, and if you're going to go through that kind of trouble and expense to generate a batch of fake voter's reg cards, you can also forge identifying documents if you must. If that's the problem, HB1706 isn't the solution.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on May 4, 2005 8:29 AM

Accepting a voter registration card as ID ensures that fraud will never be found.

Posted by: snrub on May 4, 2005 8:56 AM

Fraud requires intent. Many of the problems in the Heflin/Vo race resulted from Texas's crazy requirement that you must cast your ballot in the actual precinct in which you live. As long as you are voting in the House district where you live, it shouldn't matter. We should be simplifying voting, not making it harder. There was absolutely NO EVIDENCE presented that voters in past elections posed as imposters to commit voter fraud -- as proven by the testimony to the committee from county elections administrators. In a judicial proceeding, you don't have to present evidence to prove a negative -- only evidence to prove your case. Denny's bill wasn't based on any evidence -- it's just rote legislation being promoted nationwide by republicans because they know in the long run they will lose the demographic race.

Posted by: Brenda on May 5, 2005 4:50 PM