Where the voter ID battle goes from here

After yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, voter ID was the hot topic among legislators.

“That’s very encouraging for those of us who worked so long and hard on that,” said state Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, lead author of a voter ID bill last year. “It has to help those of us who want to see our election process be protected so that only those who are qualified are able to vote.”

The legislation passed the Texas House but failed in the Senate, where 11 members united to block the bill from consideration.

And the same would happen next year if a similar voter ID bill reaches the Senate, several Democratic members warned Monday.

“Just because the court decision indicates that it’s legal doesn’t mean that it’s right,” said Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston. “The Supreme Court doesn’t have a vote in the Texas Legislature.”

Gallegos risked his recovery from a liver transplant last spring by remaining in the Capitol and providing the decisive vote in blocking the bill. Senate rules allow 11 members to block legislation they consider objectionable, and Democrats needed Gallegos’ presence.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Senate Republicans who wanted the voter ID bill almost got their way on a roll-call vote when Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, was out with the flu. But Uresti rushed into the Senate chamber from a nearby apartment just moments before Dewhurst called his name.

Eye on Williamson, who links to other stories and reactions to the ruling, suggests that electing Joe Jaworski and Wendy Davis to the Senate would help prevent the 2009 edition of a voter ID bill passing out of the Lege. While I wholeheartedly agree with his prescription, I fear that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, in his zeal to provide red meat for Republican primary voters in 2010, will find a way to bypass the two-thirds rule and force this through somehow. Frankly, had it not been for the extraordinary circumstances last year, I think he’d have succeeded then. To me, the best line of defense for 2009 is ensuring that a Democrat is the Speaker of the House, because in that case, we won’t have Leo Berman chairing the Elections committee, and any voter ID bills that get filed ought to get strangled in the crib. You know what to do to help make that happen.

I’m not sure if I should be comforted or alarmed by this:

Gallegos and other Democrats did say they would consider an identification requirement as part of a package that made voting easier — such as allowing people to register on the same day they vote.

“That would definitely be a plus for me,” Gallegos said.

The 2007 Republican bill’s author says “maybe” to the idea of same-day voter registration.

“It’s possible that down the road that we will go toward that,” Brown said.

“There are some things that have to be clarified in our process before we could go to that. I don’t have a problem with one-day registration and voting so long as we have assurance that we can know that those people are not voting in other places,” she said.

As always, the devil is in the details. Same day registration would be nice, but not nearly enough in my book. I’ve said before and I’ll say again, the minimum requirement for me includes not just providing photo IDs for free to anyone who needs them, but actively identifying and tracking down those people so they can be sure of receiving their IDs if they want them. I can live with photo ID as a requirement if and only if it’s not an obstacle. And one more thing:

State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, said the discussion should begin with an assessment of the election system.

“Public policymaking should begin with identifying real problems,” Villarreal said. “What we know is that the advocates of voter ID have not been able to bring forth evidence demonstrating that there is real fraud happening in the voting polls.”

An honest assessment of absentee voting problems, which would include a critical look at the actions and inactions of our Attorney General, and possible remedies for them, would also be a requirement for me. Let’s be sure there’s an actual problem for us to claim to be fixing.

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