A few obvious fixes would aid voter ID law

Posted Saturday, Sep. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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It shouldn’t be a problem for anyone for Texas to have a voter ID law.

After all, the Supreme Court has said it’s OK to require people to present proof that they are who they say they are, even to present valid photo ID, when they go to the polls.

It’s not necessary to show a record of voter fraud that the ID requirement is meant to address, the court said in a 2008 Indiana case.

All states have a legitimate interest in protecting public confidence in the voting process. A voter ID law can help ensure that confidence.

So why have people, including U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, filed a federal lawsuit in Corpus Christi aimed at knocking down the Texas law?

And why has U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder decided to join them?

Having a voter ID law is not a problem. The zealous requirements written into this law, without easily identifiable provisions to lessen the burden on some potential voters, are a problem.

The case against the Texas law was extensively reviewed and ruled on last year by a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. We know exactly what its problems are.

That ruling was nullified in June when the Supreme Court blocked a portion of the Voting Rights Act under which the case was brought.

But only stubbornness — and a willingness to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal costs — would drive Texas to fight the same case over again.

The Legislature could fix the obvious problems with little difficulty, and the state could still have a very stringent voter ID law.

Given that the state has seen intense political battles over voter ID for several years, getting it all settled should be attractive to everyone.

In ruling against Texas in a Voting Rights Act “pre-clearance” case, after extensive analysis, the D.C. district court outlined exactly what the Legislature did wrong in 2011 when it passed the law.

The Texas voter ID law distinguishes itself from similar laws in other states in that it goes beyond “minor inconveniences” the Supreme Court recognized in Indiana.

Texas rightly hands out free voter ID cards at Department of Public Safety offices, meeting a key requirement laid down by the courts.

But there are costs involved in getting the documents needed to obtain the free cards, and DPS offices are not always easily accessible.

The D.C. court found the cheapest of the necessary documents, a copy of a birth certificate, costs $22. There are no DPS offices in 81 of the state’s 254 counties, so some Texans must travel long distances to get to one.

The D.C. district court said the Texas law “at least to our knowledge … is the most stringent in the country.”

The law, the court said, “imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty.”

That’s going to be a problem in the Corpus Christi case brought by Veasey and joined by Holder.

It’s also going to be problematical that the Legislature refused to fix some of the law’s obvious flaws when it defeated what the district court said were “several amendments that could have made this a far closer case.”

The amendments would have:

• Waived all fees for indigent people who need documents to get a voter ID.

• Reimbursed poor Texans who must travel long distances to a DPS office.

• Expanded the range of acceptable identification at the polls to include student or Medicare ID cards.

• Required DPS offices to be open in the evenings and on weekends.

• Allowed indigent people to cast provisional ballots without photo ID.

None of those steps would compromise the voter ID law or undermine confidence in elections.

Some of them would incur costs for taxpayers. But again, fighting a lawsuit to defend a law that has already been shown to be flawed is not only costly but foolish.

Everyone in Texas must believe in the integrity of the ballot box, and a voter ID law can help.

But it’s just as crucial that everyone who has a right to vote has an equal opportunity to vote.

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