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Empower The Vote Texas

Thanksgiving weekend voter ID update

Some statistics to throw some cold water on the claims that there were “no problems” with the voter ID law.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Delays at the polls this month due to glitches with voters’ identifications could signal a bigger problem to come next year, when many more turn out for state and county elections.

Thousands of voters had to sign affidavits or cast provisional ballots on Nov. 5 — the first statewide election held under the state’s new voter identification law — because their name on the voter rolls did not exactly match the name on their photo ID.

It took most only a short time, but election officials are concerned that a few minutes per voter to carefully check names and photos against voter registration cards, and then to have voters sign affidavits or fill out provisional paperwork, could snowball into longer waits and more frustration.

A review by The Dallas Morning News found that 1,365 provisional ballots were filed in the state’s 10 largest counties. In most of them, the number of provisional ballots cast more than doubled from 2011, the last similar election, to 2013.

Officials had no exact count for how many voters had to sign affidavits, but estimates are high. Among those who had to sign affidavits were the leading candidates for governor next year, Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis.

“If it made any kind of a line in an election with 6 percent [voter] turnout, you can definitely imagine with a 58 percent,” said Dallas County elections administrator Toni Pippins-Poole.

In Dallas County, 13,903 people signed affidavits affirming their identity.

[…]

Harris County, the state’s largest, had 704 voters fill out provisional ballots. Of those, 105 were cast because the voter failed to show an acceptable photo ID.

That’s not a huge number of provisional ballots, but it’s still an increase, which is what we would expect if voter ID were having a negative effect on people’s ability to vote. Just imagine what the effect would have been if the amendment that Wendy Davis proposed to allow affidavits for “substantially similar” names had not been accepted. Information about provisional votes have never been public on the County Clerk website, so it’s good to have this here. I’d love to know what the cause of the 599 other provisional votes was.

Meanwhile, Sondra Haltom of Empower the Vote Texas writes on BOR about some real-life people who were directly affected by the law.

Meet Peggy: she’s 90 years old and a registered voter. She can’t get an ID because she doesn’t have her citizenship documentation. She came to the U.S. with her parents thru Ellis Island. She is a naturalized citizen. She doesn’t have the money to get the required documents. She missed the deadline to apply for a mail ballot, so she didn’t get to vote in the November election.

Or what about Alberta? She was born in Wyoming. She has a copy of her Wyoming birth certificate. She was married in Washington State. She has lost her marriage license and has not been able to get one so far from Washington State. She lived in Colorado for a while and is still using her Colorado driver’s license, which will not expire until 2015. She has been living in Texas recently and is registered to vote in Texas. She voted here in the 2012 election. She wants to continue to vote but has been told she cannot vote in Texas unless she gets a copy of her marriage certificate which will link her current name to the name on her birth certificate so she can get an allowable Texas photo ID.

Or Evelyn – She has been trying to get a Texas personal id so she can vote and fly. She has a birth certificate, Social Security card, proof of residency and unexpired Driver’s license from another state, but DPS won’t issue an id without her marriage license. The county where she was married can’t find her marriage license.

There will be a lot more stories like that if this law is still in effect for the 2014 general election. The trial is set for September, but first the court has to deal with a motion to dismiss from the state, to which the plaintiffs and DOJ responded last week. The briefs and a detailed overview of the arguments are all there, so go check them out.

The problem with voter ID is more than just name matching

Cindy George is correct about what isn’t a problem with voter ID.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The names on your voter registration card and your ID must match. For the most part. They will be considered the same if they’re “substantially similar.”

There have been rumblings that married women might run into problems at the polls and be asked to present their marriage certificates. Well, that’s not true. Proof of marriage is not one of the legitimate forms of ID.

It’s not just women who will face ID mismatch scenarios at the polls. Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, who is responsible for polling stations and ballots, had his own situation this week. He was the first person to cast a ballot on Monday at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray, a popular early-voting site.

His voter registration card says “Stan” while his driver’s license says “Stanley.” After signing the poll book, he also had to initial a box – an affidavit – to confirm that “Stan” and “Stanley” are indeed one and the same person.

“It’s a very simple, easy thing. The initials are what’s new,” he told the Advocate on Friday. “We’ve turned away zero people because of this issue in early voting. Zero. We’ve only had two people who voted provisionally and that was because the IDs they brought were long expired.”

[…]

Texas Secretary of State John Steen issued a news release late Thursday to remind voters that names on credentials do not have “to match exactly” and that poll workers have been trained to acknowledge “substantially similar” names.

“There is no truth to the claims that women have to present marriage certificates at the polls,” said Alicia Pierce, the secretary of state’s director of communications, who explained that the name mismatch also can occur with surname suffixes, such as Arroyo-López. “The only thing the voter will have to do is initial by the signature in the poll book, which is an affidavit that says ‘I am the same person.’ ”

The point about “substantially similar” names is true and is being made by voting rights advocates like Sondra Haltom, who rightly fear that confusion about the law will lead to a reduction in turnout. The message is simple: Don’t fearmonger, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t cast a ballot, because you can. Bring one of the acceptable forms of ID, and be prepared to sign the “substantially similar” affidavit if you must.

The problem, of course, is that many, many Texans do not have one of the “acceptable” forms of ID. That’s partly because not everyone has a drivers license – yes, even here in Texas, not everyone drives – and partly because the Lege made the politically-motivated decision to not include things like student IDs as “acceptable”. Further, the state has made a laughably inadequate effort to provide valid IDs to the folks that don’t have them. All this is at the heart of the ongoing litigation over voter ID, and it comes down to the fact that the state has effectively disenfranchised a significant fraction of its population. That can’t fixed with an affidavit. Heck, for that matter, if it hadn’t been for the likes of Sens. Wendy Davis, who had to sign an affidavit herself, “substantially similar” wouldn’t have been an option. It’s better that we have it, but given the widespread confusion, which is something I have heard from many women myself, it’s a lot of chaos and uncertainty in service of a myth. The best way to get rid of the problem is to get rid of the law. We’ll see what the courts have to say.

Legislative quick hits

This is the time of the session where there’s lots happening, and there isn’t always the time or space to stay on top of it all. So here are a few quick updates on things that are happening in an attempt to at least not be too far behind.

A bill to give Tesla Motors an opportunity to operate in Texas moves out of committee in the House.

The House Business and Industry Committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that would allow Tesla Motors to circumvent the state’s franchise dealer system and sell cars directly to Texans, giving a shot in the arm to the company’s efforts to operate in the state.

Tesla says an exemption from the franchise dealer system is the only way the company can operate successfully in Texas, but the owners of state auto dealer franchises have objected, saying the effort weakens a business model that has been key to their success.

House Bill 3351, by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, was replaced by a committee substitute that offered auto dealers another layer of protection: If Tesla ever sells more than 5,000 cars a year in the state, it will become subject to existing regulation and must start to franchise its operations.

With Tesla projecting sales of only a few hundred cars a year in the state, the bill’s supporters, including Diarmuid O’Connell, the vice president of business development for Tesla motors, called this a workable approach.

“This would give us the space we need to introduce our technology in the state,” he said.

See here for the background. I’m rooting for this one.

A bill to allow online voter registration has passed the Senate.

[Tuesday] afternoon, the Texas senate approved SB 315, a bill proposed by State Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) to allow holders of unexpired Texas driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs to register to vote online.

Currently, registered voters in Texas may change their addresses online if they move within the same county but must complete a paper application if they are registering to vote for the first time or have moved to a different county.

In testimony on the proposed bill, election administrators said the legislation would both save significant money by reducing the need to manually enter information and eliminate transcription mistakes that happen with the current process.

The version of the bill approved by the Texas senate differs slightly from the original filed version in that the passed bill no longer requires voters to use the address listed on their license or ID as their voter registration address.

A similar bill – HB 313 – by State Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) is currently pending in the state house.

See here for the background. Another bill I’m rooting for. BOR has more.

Sen. Dan Patrick’s charter school expansion bill had its hearing in the House

Lawmakers didn’t let on too much of their feelings about the bill—but Killeen Republican Jimmy Don Aycock, chair of the House Public Education Committee, said he didn’t consider the bill watered-down, because it allows the state’s charter network to grow. Charter school officials seemed to agree.

The bill still gives charter schools priority access to unused public school facilities, which Kathleen Zimmerman, executive director of NYOS Charter School, said is the bill’s most important improvement. Zimmerman said she has to give up her office for tutoring sessions because unlike public schools, charters don’t get facilities funding.

Under the Senate version, the education commissioner would revoke charters of schools that performed poorly in three out of five years.

Zimmerman said she didn’t focus on those higher standards because she wanted to highlight the positives. But, she said, “as a charter operator, I don’t want poor performing charters either.”

Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) said she’s concerned that charters may have a hard time getting loans because some banks want them to plan to be open for more than five years.

Charles Pulliam, chief development officer of Life School charter in Dallas, said that prospect would undermine the flexibility charters need to test out innovative education strategies.

“It scares me a little,” Pulliam said. “To have one blanket way of determining if they are successful is a mistake.”

The bill is SB 2, and it easily passed the Senate after adding a bunch of mostly Democratic amendments. It is pending in the House Public Ed committee.

Speaking of charter schools, a bill to limit the role ex-SBOE members can play at one has advanced.

A measure to bar former State Board of Education members from taking a job at a charter school or related foundation within two years of serving on the board is headed to the full Senate.

Senate Bill 1725 by state Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, is intended to close the revolving door between the SBOE and charter schools.

An amendment by Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, would allow former board members to take a job at a charter school within the two-year period so long as that member did not vote to create that particular school.

The Senate Education Committee passed the bill 6-3 late Tuesday.

The three nays all came from Republicans, which suggests this bill could have problems getting any farther.

The Lege has been trying to change the name of the Railroad Commission to something more reflective of reality for as long as I can remember. They’re still trying, and working on some other reforms as well.

The bill, SB 212 by State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, embodies a previous Sunset review of the Railroad Commission that didn’t pass in the last legislative session that would forbid certain campaign contributions. For instance, commissioners could not accept donations from a party involved in a contested case hearing. It would also limit campaign contributions to the 17 months before an election and 30 days after. Commissioners are elected to six-year terms.

A contested case hearing is the way citizens protest against an oil and gas company permit or action.

Barry Smitherman, Chairman of the Railroad Commission, said during testimony that the campaign restrictions were “tricky” because the commissioner position is elected statewide, the state is big, travel is necessary and commissioners must raise money.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who sits on the committee, said the Sunset Commission had thought hard about how to put reasonable limits on the campaign financing.

“Sitting there for a six-year term, being able to raise unlimited amounts of money from the industry that they regulate, there clearly is a perception problem,” said Ellis.

The Railroad Commission should be subject to restrictions that differ from other statewide elected officials, like senators and representatives, because the nature of the commission is unique, Nichols said, because the commissioners have six-year terms, they regulate a specific industry and they set rates.

Similar Sunset legislation for the commission originating in the House, HB 2166 by State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, recently passed out of committee, but largely stripped of the campaign and ethics reform, according to Texas Energy Report. That bill could end up competing with the Senate bill discussed Tuesday.

[…]

No one testified specifically against the name-change provision. [Commissioner Christi] Craddick suggested the more succinct Texas Energy Commission. State Sen. Glen Hegar, R-Katy, who worked on the Sunset review that failed to pass in the last legislative session, also suggested a new name.

“I’d like to change it to Texas Department on Oil and Gas because it sounds cool … TDOG,” Hegar said.

The official name in the bill is Texas Energy Resources Commission. But I like Sen. Hegar’s suggestion.

We close with two from the inbox. First, from Equality Texas:

Moments ago, the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence advanced House Bill 2403 by Rep. Mary González of El Paso on a committee vote of 5-3.

HB 2403 would remove existing inequity in Texas’ “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense law. The “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense is a logical approach to the reality that adolescents sometimes make sexual decisions that adults wish they had not made, but that adolescents have been making since the beginning of time.

Under current law, if teen sweethearts are of opposite sexes, consensual intimate contact remains a matter between parents and their children. However, the “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense is not currently available to dating teens of the same gender. The state should not intrude on the right of parents to instill their values about sex into their children. Nor should the state interfere if teenage sweethearts make decisions that their parents believe are not what is best for them.

This needs to be a conversation between parents and their children. Not between parents, their children, an arresting officer, a prosecuting attorney, and a trial judge. That is why the “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense exists.

HB 2301 will ensure that it applies equally to straight & gay teens.

Today’s House committee action follows advancement of identical legislation by the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice. On April 9th, Senate Bill 1316 by Senator John Whitmire of Houston was advanced by the committee on a 4-1 vote. SB 1316 is on the Senate Intent Calendar for Tuesday, April 23, 2013.

See here for more. As far as I can tell, the full Senate has not taken up SB1316 as yet.

Last but not least, a non-good bill from Empower the Vote Texas:

HB 148 by Rep. Burkett is scheduled to be voted on by the full House tomorrow, April 25th. Please contact your State Representative and tell them to vote NO on this bill. If you are not sure who is your State Rep, you can use the “Who Represents Me” lookup tool. Emails addresses for all House members are firstname.lastname @ house.state.tx.us, however phone calls are much more effective.

Attached are the letter ETVT sent to all Representatives opposing this bill along with supporting documents. The original text of the bill as introduced, the new text of the committee substitute, witness list, and bill analysis can be found here.

A copy of the letter is here. The hearing is today, so we’ll see how it goes.