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Senate belatedly addresses one voter ID concern

Better really late and at least mildly coerced than never, I guess.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Texas Senate, with scant attention during an early morning vote, gave its unanimous answer to a lingering question the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals posed about the state’s embattled voter ID law.

Among the first votes taken by the chamber on Monday was on Senate Bill 983, a measure sponsored by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Harris County Republican, that would allow Texans to show up at their county clerk’s office and get a free copy of their birth certificate – if they say it will be used to get an election ID certificate. The bill won approval, 31-0.

That response came after hard-line questioning from Judge Catharina Haynes, an appellate jurist who will be part of a team that will rule on the constitutionality of Texas’s voter ID law, which has earned national scrutiny and already made it to the U.S. Supreme Court once.

“They’re meeting right now. They had that opportunity. What are they doing?” said Haynes, an appointee of former President George W. Bush’s, during an April hearing. “Why wouldn’t the legislative system fix the rules? Why should we fix the rules?”

More than 600,000 Texans lack the proper identification to vote under the state’s relatively new voting laws, among the most stringent in the nation. Most people (some exceptions can be made for Texans with disabilities) must show one of the following: a driver’s license or ID card (though a student ID card won’t do), a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card or a U.S. citizenship certificate with a photo. For the record, other states have more qualifying document options available to its eligible voters.

Texans who don’t have any of that, however, must request what’s called an “election identification certificate” to cast a ballot – but wait, there’s more. You have to show a birth certificate, which costs between $2 to $47, in order to obtain said election ID certificate.

That’s where SB 983 comes in. The Senate effectively has told the court that, under this proposal, the state would allow a person to get one free copy of their birth certificate to prove their citizenship, and thus get an election ID certificate.

See here and here for the background. It’s a baby step in the direction of making this law less onerous, though it does nothing to help anyone who doesn’t have a birth certificate (quite a few people who were born at home don’t) or who were born in another state (insert your own “long-form Hawaiian birth certificate” joke here). For sure, the only reason the Senate took this up is because of what Justice Haynes said, so just like someone who only buys a birthday present when reminded of the need and told exactly what to get, it’s hard to say how much credit they deserve for initiative. It also doesn’t address the issue of discriminatory intent, which is a whole ‘nother ball game. If the Republicans wanted to make a sincere effort to show that they didn’t mean to disenfranchise anyone, they could 1) allow out of state drivers licenses and student IDs to be used, and 2) spend some real money on an outreach program to provide election ID certificates to those who need them. Until then, you’ll forgive me if I view this with a helping dollop of cynicism.

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