May 11, 2009
Voter ID passes out of House committee

The session that's been all about voter ID is finally headed into its final act as SB362 gets approval from the House Elections Committee on a 5-4 vote. It wasn't actually a straight-party vote - Rep. Joe Heflin, who had tried to work a compromise, voted for it so as to retain the ability to make a motion sending the plan back to committee from the House floor, and Rep. Dennis Bonnen voted against it because it wasn't punitive enough. And after all that, it may amount to nothing in the end.

Elections Committee Chair Todd Smith then told the press he doesn't expect the bill to survive as is -- that unless there are compromises from both sides when the bill hits the floor, then voter ID will "die". Smith predicted the bill has a less than 50% chance of surviving, as is.

"What I'm trying to do is act in a way that satisfy [the conservative wing's] concerns but also doesn't blow up this body," said Smith. "But I don't pretend to control the votes on the House floor and it seems to me there are two possibilities: Either we reach some sort of consensus in a bipartisan fashion, or we will simply make a statement, have a record vote and go home having not passed a voter ID bill."

Smith said that conceptually he's in favor of a phase-in, a signature or verification process, and spending money to expand the number of registered voters to make clear the net effect of Voter ID isn't intended to suppress the vote.

Smith continues:

"It would satisfy the concerns of my constituents, but then it would also address the reasonable concerns on the other side of the political aisle," he said. "The question is, how many people want or care about satisfying the reasonable concerns on the other side of the political aisle. If there aren't more than a handful, we may simply have a very divisive vote that in my opinion, is likely to fail.

"Unless we develop a more pragmatic approach, member by member, and a stronger desire to reach some sort of bipartisan compromise, then my guess is that it's something less than 50%, the chances of passing a voter ID bill.

"We got a choice to make. Do we want to pass a bill or make a statement? And it's clear to me that some members that simply want to make a statement. They're not interested in passing a bill."

Well, I'm not interested in passing a bill because it's been clear from the beginning that the goal was to make it harder for folks who tend to support Democrats to vote. The alleged "problem" that this bill is supposed to address is rarer than getting hit by lightning while being eaten by a shark, yet it's been deemed the single most important issue facing Texas today by those who fear for their electoral future if those damn voters can't be stopped. One certainly could have put forth a bill that would have genuinely addressed legitimate issues, ranging from verifiable audit trails to obstacles to getting registered to actual fraud involving absentee ballots, but Smith's Republican colleagues have never been interested in passing such a bill, as they have made perfectly clear. Given all this, the most sensible thing to do would have been to conclude that there are many more pressing issues that require the Lege's attention, but that wasn't gonna happen, either. So from the GOP's perspective, they either get a half a loaf, ot they get what they think will be a juicy campaign issue, or possibly both. You have to give them credit for keeping on with the wedge issues in the age of Obama, for however much longer that will work. I suppose if your piano only has one key, you play that note for all it's worth and hope nobody notices how monotonic you are. Good luck with that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 11, 2009 to That's our Lege
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