March 30, 2009
The Heflin plan for voter ID

While I still have hope that voter ID can be stopped one more time, I can certainly understand the viewpoint that a sufficiently determined Republican majority can push through what it wants to if it really tries, especially if we do wind up having one or more special sessions, and that as such the best tactic is to try to mitigate the inevitable damage. So I don't have a problem with State Rep. Joe Heflin coming up with a "compromise plan" for this essentially uncompromisable issue. It's just that in doing so, he (probably unintentionally) points out how absurd it all is.

Rep. Joe Heflin of Crosbyton is drafting an approach that he believes could bring members of both parties together. Early this week, he outlined some of his ideas to Smith, who didn't reject any ideas out of hand, though he said today he wants to hear testimony on their feasibility and potential costs before making commitments.

Heflin hopes to have a draft proposal ready by Tuesday including these elements:

-- Phasing in the ID mandate over four to six years to soothe Democratic qualms that the Republican ID push is driven by partisan desires to tamp down turnout among minority, Democratic-leaning voters next year in legislative elections. Their fret: The 2011 Legislature (elected in 2010) will be tasked with redrawing congressional land legislative districts based on the 2010 U.S. Census; more Republican legislators means a more Republican map.

-- Exempting voters 65 and older from the ID mandate, with the exemption age increasing by one year every year after the law takes effect;

-- Placing each voter's photo on their registration cards, which also would newly have bar codes linked to PIN codes that voters wishing to submit ballots by mail would have to mark down in order to do so;

--Ensuring there's funding for ID cards in some cases and to support expanded voter education and registration efforts.

The "phase-in" idea, which was also floated by David Dewhurst leads one to wonder just how much some of the Republicans believe their own rhetoric if they go for this. I mean, if you truly believe that elections are being stolen left and right because of swarms of voter impersonators, would you find a waiting period before implementing the solution you claim will stamp it out to be acceptable? Either this is the single most important issue facing Texas today or it isn't. Phillip, who notes that by Rep. Todd Smith's own admission, voter ID is really about creating a wedge issue, asks the same question.

Exempting voters over the age of 65 sounds nice, and would solve some of the problems of disenfranchisement. It's just that by enacting such an exemption, you're stipulating to the disenfranchisement problem, which the Republicans have adamantly denied. And given that one reason why some people have a hard time getting state-issued ID is that they don't have their original birth certificates (some folks, who were born at home, never had them), how are we going to ensure that those who are eligible for the exemption, and only those who are eligible, receive it?

Putting photos on voter registration cards is a nice idea, and might have avoided this whole stupid issue had we been doing that all along. But how exactly are we going to do that? Will everyone have to go to their county's voter registrar office to get a photo taken? If we just use existing driver's license or state ID photos for voter reg cards, what about the folks who don't have them? That's what Democrats have been complaining about all along. And how much would this cost?

Speaking of which, does anyone really believe that the party that doesn't want to fully fund the unemployment insurance trust (among many other things) is going to want to put up an appropriate amount of coinage to pay for ID cards and expanded voter education and registration efforts? Remember, officially SB362 has no fiscal note, meaning that "no significant fiscal implication to the State is anticipated". Even if we managed to create some pool of money for this, we have a pretty lousy track record of late in ensuring that the funds collected go to the purpose for which they were intended. I see this as a huge trap.

Other than all that, of course, I think this is a reasonable idea. Again, I don't blame Rep. Heflin for trying. I just don't see how he can succeed, at least on the terms of the debate as they have been advanced so far.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 30, 2009 to That's our Lege
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