The state’s v oter ID law doesn’t seem to be creating significant problems at Texas polls so far, but election officials worry that the worst is in store.This year’s Nov. 5 election, which features constitutional amendments and proposals such as school and park bond packages, is drawing a trickle of Texas early voters to the polls, a drop in the bucket of what is expected next year.“We’ve really had no complaints, concerns or issues,” said Steve Raborn, elections administrator for Tarrant County. “But it’s only a small test given the low turnout.“Voters who turn out for these constitutional amendment and bond elections are frequent voters. They know the drill,” he said. “Next year, we probably will get a lot more voters, first-time voters or infrequent voters, and maybe they haven’t received that message.”This is the first statewide election in which Texans must show a photo ID to vote.While no problems have been reported locally, concerns have been brought up statewide by those who are worried that some Texans, such as transgender people or women whose maiden and married names may be different on various IDs, won’t be able to vote.“With Texas ranking dead last in the nation for voter turnout, we should be making it as easy as possible for Texans to participate in the democratic process,” Jenn Brown, executive director of Battleground Texas, a Democratic group working to turn Texas blue, said in a statement.“Instead, Republican leaders in Austin have made it harder than ever for Texans to vote — and as many as a third of Texas women could find themselves turned away at the polls simply because the name on their ID doesn’t exactly match their name on the voting rolls.”The GOP-led Legislature passed the Voter ID law two years ago, but it was tied up in the courts for years.The U.S. Supreme Court cleared this year the way for photo ID requirements to go into effect, despite Democrats’ concerns that the measure will disenfranchise some voters. Other lawsuits have been filed to stop Texas from implementing the law.Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the law is needed to prevent voter fraud.“It’s now the law of the land,” he said last week at a campaign forum in North Richland Hills. “It’s a good bill.”The 2011 constitutional amendment election drew about 5 percent of Texas’ registered voters, fewer than 700,000. Officials say a similar turnout could occur this year.Next year’s midterm election, which will feature a heated gubernatorial race as well as contested races up and down the ballot, is expected to draw significantly more voters.Voting concernsEarly voting runs until Friday for the Nov. 5 election.Voters will weigh in on issues including park and school bond proposals in Bedford and Fort Worth and alcohol sales in Arlington, in addition to nine proposed constitutional amendments that include creating a State Water Implementation Fund and authorizing reverse mortgages. State election officials say no complaints have made it their way about Texans being unable to vote because of the voter ID law.“As far as we can tell, things are running smoothly so far,” said Alicia Pierce, communications director for the Texas secretary of state’s office.But a South Texas judge almost didn’t get to vote because of the new law, news reports said.Last week, 117th District Judge Sandra Watts told the media that she was identified for possible voter fraud because her maiden name was listed as her middle name on her driver license whereas her voter registration form listed her real middle name.She and others say married women who didn’t update their identification might face similar problems. “I don’t think most women know that this is going to create a problem,” she said.Battleground Texas officials say a national survey shows that 34 percent of women in the United States do not have the identification required by voter ID laws.Raborn said election officials can use common sense and discretion. And if they can clearly identify a person, they can let him or her vote.“You can make every effort to say it’s a similar name comparison, using things such as the photo and date of birth,” he said.Texas Secretary of State John Steen also reminded voters that when voting in person it is not necessary for the name on the ID and the one on the registration to match exactly.“As long as the names are substantially similar, all a voter will have to do is initial to affirm he or she is the same person who is registered,” Steen said.Differing opinionsTexas Attorney General Greg Abbott staunchly defends the state’s voter ID law, saying it is needed to prevent voter fraud.“Voting is one of our most important rights,” said Abbott, who is running to become governor next year. “Make sure you have everything you need in order to vote. “If you don’t currently have one of these IDs, please take the steps now to get one, including the free Election Identification Certificate that can be obtained at all DPS driver license offices.”U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D- Fort Worth, one of the people suing to stop the voter ID law from taking effect, said he’s worried about the number of Texans who won’t be able to vote.“Keeping in mind the expectation of high turnout in 2014 in his competitive governor’s race against Wendy Davis, that’s exactly what Attorney General Greg Abbott intended,” Veasey said. “Furthermore, election judges and clerks are selected through their local political parties, and now they are the very people who will be empowered by this discriminatory law.“Why would Greg Abbott provide an election clerk with such a subjective vehicle that can be used to turn away voters? Women, who are more likely to have name changes, are especially vulnerable under this law. The secretary of state recently sent out an interpretation of the law, explaining that if in fact there is discrepancy between the voter’s ID and the registration card, then they must have the official document which shows their legal name. We should be making it easier for Texans to exercise their right to vote, not more difficult.”Acceptable IDsAcceptable IDs include a driver license, a state-issued personal ID card, concealed handgun license, military card and citizenship certificate with photo or passport. Any license that’s expired must not be expired for more than 60 days.Anyone who needs one may get a free election identification card at a driver license office. Several local offices are open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Nov. 2 just to issue Election Identification Certificates.So far, about 70 of these cards have been issued statewide, officials say.Those voting by mail don’t have to submit a photo ID. People with a documented disability may apply at their county voter registrar for a permanent exemption from the requirement, election officials say.And any people who show up at the polls to vote without a photo ID are given a chance to go home and bring the ID back.If they don’t, they may cast a provisional ballot. But to make sure that vote is counted, they’ll have to take a valid photo ID to the elections office within six days after the election. Otherwise the ballot will not be counted, Raborn said.“We haven’t had anyone refuse to show an ID,” Raborn said recently. “And we haven’t had any provisional ballots.”Applications for mail-in ballots, sample ballots and a list of Election Day polling sites are online.For information, call Tarrant County election officials at 817-831-8683.
Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley