Voter ID Is Not about Preserving Democracy

By Katie Adams
TFN Student Activist

During the decade that Greg Abbott has been Texas’ attorney general, he has encountered a grand total of two cases of voter impersonation. In 2011, in a heroic effort to curb this odious problem of rampant voter fraud, the Texas Legislature passed a bill requiring all Texans to show a photo ID before they’re allowed to exercise their constitutional right to participate in our democracy.

It is considered one of the United States’ most stringent voter ID bills, because only seven forms of photo ID are accepted. Though in most situations requiring a photo ID, out-of-state drivers’ licenses are permissible, Texas election workers will not be accepting these as a valid form of ID. And even a “free” election certificate costs money. It requires people who don’t already have an ID to take time off from work (not always possible) to obtain documents proving their identity and to obtain the actual ID. It hits our most vulnerable citizens hardest, and that is simply unacceptable.

Naturally, the bill was challenged. And while U.S. District Judge Nelva Ramos called it out for being a de facto poll tax and ruled that it was an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently overturned that ruling in the interest of “preserving the status quo.”

The problem is that this consistency, this uniformity, that the Fifth Circuit seems so adamant about preserving is one of racial discrimination and voter disenfranchisement.

Many southern states, including Texas, have an abysmal record concerning voting rights. We’ve enacted every barrier to voting we could dream up — from poll taxes to literacy tests. The argument was always that these racist pieces of legislation were necessary to preserve our most hallowed of civic duties: voting. Though ultimately, these arguments were found by high courts to hold no water, that hasn’t stopped states from continuing to dream up novel methods of disenfranchising voters they’d rather simply stay home.
Proponents of voter ID make similar such arguments today. The problem, again, is that their arguments hold no water. Voter ID is a solution to a problem that does not exist.

To begin with, voter fraud is hardly an endemic problem. To the great relief of the Texas public, Abbott has been closely monitoring the situation during his term in office. He has encountered two instances in which the voter ID bill would have prevented fraudulent voting. To put that in perspective, there have been more UFO sightings over the past decade than there have been instances of voter fraud in Texas.

The natural response to an issue that repeats itself with such alarming frequency is, of course, to pass legislation to nip it in the bud. The fact that over half a million Texans do not have the proper form of ID in order to comply with the law and will thus be disenfranchised this November is apparently a nonissue. That these Texans belong to groups that historically vote Democratic is also a coincidence.

This is not the first time Republicans have played partisan politics with our rights as citizens. In every redistricting cycle since the 1970s, Texas’ racially gerrymandered districts have been found to violate the Voting Rights Act. As disappointed as I am with the voter ID bill, it’s about what I’d expect from a party that would see the Voting Rights Act overturned.

Make no mistake: Voter ID is not some protective act passed by a legislature worried about the preservation of democracy. It is simply the latest in a series of racially discriminatory laws stretching back over 100 years. It’s embarrassing for Texas politicians to pretend otherwise, and it’s shameful that Greg Abbott insists on defending a law that discriminates against so many Texans.