The following is an op-ed by Mario Perez of Common Cause Texas. It's scheduled to run in Tuesday's Statesman, but apparently the voter ID bills are going to come to the floor on Monday, which would make this a day late (though hopefully not a buck short). In the interest of making sure it gets seen in time for the debate, I've agreed to run it here.
What would you say to your family doctor if he told you that although he cannot find evidence that you have any dire malady or health problem, he nevertheless insists to prescribe a harmful, costly, and extreme course of treatments? No one would blame you if you thought him a quack and sought a second opinion. Who would accept a solution in search of a problem?
That is exactly the situation facing the Texas Legislature right now. We have a few self-appointed experts who have filed bills that amount to too-strong medicine for Texans to swallow in the name of combating alleged voter fraud.
Rep. Betty Brown (R) - Athens , has filed House Bill 218 to require voters to produce certain government-issued photo identification along with a voter registration card in order to vote. Under this bill, a voter could also provide two other forms of identification including a certified copy of a birth certificate, an original or certified copy of a person's marriage license or divorce decree, court records of a person's adoption, name or sex change, in order to vote.
Under current law, a voter need provide a photo id or other identification if they are a first-time voter. Otherwise they are normally required have either a voter registration card, or be able to produce identification in order to cast a ballot. Why the current law needs to be changed has become one of the great mysteries of this legislative session.
It would be one thing if someone could come up with some examples of voter impersonation or other such shenanigans to justify so severely restricting the exercise of our sacred right to vote. Advocates of this change must be able to point to a crime wave of voter impersonation, right? They haven't. And they can't.
This is because according to our own Attorney General, hardly anyone has been prosecuted in Texas for any such crime. Almost all of the handful of "voter fraud" prosecutions in Texas have been connected to an unrelated area, voting by mail. This legislation has nothing to do with voting by mail. And yet we have very serious attempts to place onerous new requirements on the right to vote. Of course, this will prove a hardship to senior citizens and disabled Texans who do not have driver's licenses, and will it will disproportionately impact minority communities and the poor. That is why organizations such as the League of Women Voters, Common Cause Texas, the AARP, and MALDEF oppose this measure.
Paul Burka of Texas Monthly Magazine, a non-partisan critic of this legislation, has pointed to the conclusions of The U.S. Election Assistance Commission which interviewed a broad group of respected experts who concluded "...that the impersonation of voters is probably the least frequent type of fraud because it is the most likely to be discovered, there are stiff penalties associated with this type of fraud, and it is an insufficient means of influencing an election."
There are many observers, including Burka, who contend that the real aim of this type of legislation is blatantly partisan: namely tamping down voter participation in communities that usually vote Democratic.
Rep. Phil King (R) - Weatherford has offered the equally objectionable HB 626 which would require proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. Doesn't sound too bad? It is actually a very bad idea. This legislation would effectively put an end to voter registration drives in Texas.
His bill mandates that anyone trying to register to vote must include in the mail or in person a certified copy of an official document to prove citizenship status. This includes a birth certificate or other documents confirming birth that is admissible in a court of law, United States citizenship papers issued to the applicant, or an unexpired United States passport issued to the applicant. Is this a necessary provision to stamp out the practice of undocumented residents unlawfully registering to vote? No, there is no evidence of a real problem of this nature.
Amazingly, Rep. King candidly admits in his bill analysis that "...there is no evidence of extensive fraud in Texas elections or of multiple voting ...."
These bills have been rushed out of the House Elections Committee on straight party-line votes. The Calendars Committee even met at 11:30 pm to hastily schedule them for consideration before the House, in unusual fashion. This represents a rushed attempt to ram them through before sufficient public debate and consideration. It is clearly at odds with Speaker Craddick's professed support of a new, more friendly and bipartisan House of Representatives. We can only hope that cooler heads prevail against this hurried and clumsy attempt to force down the throat of the people of Texas a strong, foul-smelling remedy that they don't need.
Perhaps legislators should have a version of the medical profession's Hippocratic Oath. Someone should tell them that when they come up with solutions to our 'problems' they need to "First, do no harm."
Mario X. Perez is a Fort Worth Attorney and State Chair of Common Cause Texas .