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Voter ID law snags former House Speaker Jim Wright

Posted Saturday, Nov. 02, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Former House Speaker Jim Wright was denied a voter ID card Saturday at a Texas Department of Public Safety office.

“Nobody was ugly to us, but they insisted that they wouldn’t give me an ID,” Wright said.

The legendary Texas political figure says that he has worked things out with DPS and that he will get a state-issued personal identification card in time for him to vote Tuesday in the state and local elections.

But after the difficulty he had this weekend getting a proper ID card, Wright, 90, expressed concern that such problems could deter others from voting and stifle turnout. After spending much of his life fighting to make it easier to vote, the Democratic Party icon said he is troubled by what he’s seeing happen under the state’s new voter ID law.

“I earnestly hope these unduly stringent requirements on voters won’t dramatically reduce the number of people who vote,” Wright told the Star-Telegram. “I think they will reduce the number to some extent.”

Wright and his assistant, Norma Ritchson, went to the DPS office on Woodway Drive to get a State of Texas Election Identification Certificate. Wright said he realized earlier in the week that the photo identifications he had — a Texas driver’s license that expired in 2010 and a TCU faculty ID — do not satisfy requirements of the voter ID law, enacted in 2011 by the Legislature. DPS officials concurred.

But Wright and Ritchson will return to the office Monday with a certified copy of Wright’s birth certificate, which the DPS employees assured them would be good enough for the Texas personal identification card, designed specifically for people who do not drive.

“It can be used for anything, not just voting,” Ritchson said.

While Wright will be able to vote, Ritchson worried that others of his age may find the obstacles and inconvenience she and Wright encountered so off-putting that they just don’t vote.

“I’ve been thinking about the people who are in retirement homes,” Ritchson said. “I’ve read that this is the lowest early voter turnout in a long time and I wonder if this [ID requirement] is the cause. We’ve tried so hard to make voting easy, and now the Texas Legislature has made it harder by making you have a photo ID.”

Voting still OK

Election officials in Tarrant County and statewide have stressed that voters who have no valid photo ID or election identification certificate can still cast ballots Tuesday.

They will be allowed to cast a provisional vote and then will have about a week to take the proper ID to the county elections office to “cure,” or validate, the ballot, said Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman with the Texas secretary of state's office.

“We want to make sure that every eligible Texan who wants to cast a ballot can,” Pierce said. “We want to help any Texan who needs additional information."

Wright, who said he has voted in every election since 1944, lamented that such help is called for.

“From my youth I have tried to expand the elections,” Wright said. “I pushed to abolish the poll tax. I was the first to come out for lowering the voting age to 18.”

Wright, a Fort Worth native, is a former state legislator and mayor of Weatherford who served in the U.S. House from 1955 until he resigned in 1989.

How to get an ID

Tarrant County Elections Administrator Steve Raborn said Saturday that people who might find themselves in a similar situation should cast a provisional ballot and obtain identification needed to “cure” it within six days.

“There could be people surprised by this,” he said. “Some people have always voted with their voter certificate. We don't want to discourage anybody from voting. The last resort is for them to vote the provisional ballot.”

Raborn's office reached out to people who might have expired driver licenses, such as those who live in nursing homes, to let them know that the license can be expired by no more than two months to be a valid photo ID for voting.

Anyone who doesn't have a valid photo ID can go to a local driver’s license office to get an EIC.

They must have proof of citizenship, such as a passport or certified copy of a birth certificate. If a person doesn't have a certified copy of a birth certificate, he or she can go to the Tarrant County clerk's office and get a certified copy for $3 if it is for the purpose of getting an EIC.

Along with the birth certificate, people need to show two other pieces of identification — such as a driver license expired less than two years, a voter registration card, school records, military records or a Social Security card — to get the EIC.

A temporary EIC, issued on site and good until a permanent card arrives in the mail, may be used both at polling sites Tuesday and to validate a provisional ballot that has been cast.

Typically, voters would have six days to take the necessary identification to the county elections office to validate a ballot. But because the sixth day falls this year on Veterans Day, voters have until Nov. 12.

For more information, voters may call the Texas secretary of state's office at 800-252-VOTE (8683) or the Tarrant County Elections Office at 817-831-VOTE (8683). Go online for more information at www.tarrantcounty.com/evote or votexas.org.

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620 Twitter: @fwstevans Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley

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