Nel's New Day

October 24, 2013

Voter ID Laws Block Women’s Votes

GOP legislators and governors have found many ways to disenfranchise voters who might possibly vote against them: gerrymandering, voter ID laws, voter list purging, etc. The Supreme Court decision that struck down Section 4 of the almost 50-year-old Voters Rights Act created even more havoc for voters. The tipping point against these actions may have come this fall in Texas.

Last night Rachel Maddow laid out the Texas problem on her show. It starts with a Texas law that mandated that all married women must use her maiden name as the middle name, a change resulting in a mismatch between the name on voter registration and driver’s license for women. The information went viral after Sandra Watts, judge in the 117th District Court, was challenged when she tried to vote. Watts has voted in every election for the past 49 years, the name on her driver’s license has stayed the same for 52 years, and the address on her voter registration card or driver’s license has not changed for more than two decades. Yet her middle name on the driver’s license is her maiden name, and the middle name on the voter registration is the one determined at her birth.

Voting officials told her she had to sign a voter affidavit, affirming that she was who she said she was. Anyone who does not sign the affidavit must use a provisional ballot.

The district attorney said that there had not been one case of voter fraud in her county (Oasis County) since he had been there. During the past 13 years, tens of millions of votes have been cast in Texas, but there is only one documented instance of a person pretending to be someone else at the polls.

This year’s election in Texas is quiet, with mostly local issues. Next year, however, Wendy Davis will be running for governor, a candidate who will bring out a large number of women whose votes may be eliminated because their driver’s license don’t exactly match their voter’s registrations.

Texas estimates that it has 1.4 million people unable to vote because they lack the necessary government-issued ID. Hispanics are 46 to 120 percent more likely than whites to lack an ID, and women will also be particularly impacted by the new Texas ID requirement that the ID be “substantially similar” to the name on the voter registration rolls. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that one-third of all women have citizenship documents that do not match their current legal name.

In June, the state started a campaign to get correct voter ID for all these 1.4 million people. Since that time, in five months, they have succeeded with 41 people. That’s only .003 percent of eligible voters. The other 99.997 percent don’t have an ID for the Nov. 5 election. Now the state doesn’t have to do anything because the Supreme Court freed the state of having to pre-clear changes in the state’s election law to make sure that the changes would not have a racially discriminatory effect.

North Carolina has taken advantage of the Supreme Court ruling to not only enact a restrictive voter ID law but also narrow the window for early voting, restrict voter registration drives, make it harder for students to vote, end same-day registration, and limit voting on Sunday, At this time the U.S. Justice Department is suing to stop these racially-motivated laws. In an act of irony, the GOP in North Carolina opened up a new office of African-American outreach on the same day that they began the defense of their laws to disenfranchise black voters.

The Democratic party has also announced a new national director of voter protection to work on discrimination against voters in the United States. Meanwhile, people at thousands of local election polls are being turned away or forced to use provisional ballots for voting. State officials admit that they may simply ignore these ballots.

Requiring that the names on a voter ID and in the voter registry be determined “substantially similar” gives separate election districts the control over whether to accept the identification or reject it. Texas requires one of seven forms of acceptable voter ID. People with legally changed names need a marriage certificate to obtain the election ID certificate. And it can’t be a copy: it has to be the original one. Women, particularly elderly ones, may not have any of these forms of identification: driver’s license, military ID, a concealed handgun license, U.S. citizen certificate, U.S. passport, DPS ID card and a Texas election ID certificate.

Transgender people may also have trouble voting because of the new law. About 27 percent of this group, approximately 6,000 potential voters, lack photo ID that reflects their gender expression.

In September a federal three-judge panel ruled that the U.S. Department of Justice can participate in a lawsuit challenging Texas’ gerrymandering district maps. Last summer, the DOJ sued to block the state from enforcing the state’s new voter ID law.

In 2007, conservative Judge Richard Posner, appointed by Ronald Reagan, wrote the first federal court ruling when he upheld voter ID laws in Indiana. Five years later, he wrote in his book, Reflections on Judging, that he made a mistake with this landmark decision:

“I plead guilty to having written the majority opinion (affirmed by the Supreme Court) upholding Indiana’s requirement that prospective voters prove their identity with a photo ID—a law now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than fraud prevention.”

In an interview, he blamed the lawyers for not giving “strong indications that requiring additional voter identification would actually disfranchise people entitled to vote.” Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote an opinion for the Supreme Court affirming Posner’s decision, also blamed the lawyers. Later he said that the dissent to the majority ruling was right and cited the serious impact of voter ID “on poor, minority, disabled and elderly voters.”

Supporters of voter identification laws could not find any modern conspiratorial voter impersonation fraud. Stevens’ opinion literally had to use Boss Tweed’s fraud in the 1860s with one possible case of impersonation fraud in a 2004 Washington State election. Since 2007, voter ID laws are more restrictive, and the number of places to get IDs is shrinking. Texas is a prime example of this unreasonable law. People may have to travel 250 miles roundtrip at their own expense to get IDs if they don’t use driver’s licenses. Although a concealed weapons permit is acceptable, student ID is not.

In the past five years, GOP supporters of voter ID laws have blatantly admitted that their purpose is to help Republicans gain electoral advantage. Texas admitted that the goal of their gerrymandering was “to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats….even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates.”

Let us hope that the lawyers will carefully explain to the judges the discriminatory basis for voter ID laws and that the judges will believe them.

1 Comment »

  1. Reblogged this on Civil Rights Advocacy and commented:
    In the early spring of 2012, Pennsylvania passed its restrictive photo voter id law that is similar to the one in Texas discussed in Nel’s New Day. That summer, I testified in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court about my observations at the PennDOT licensing center in Pleasant Gap about the problems I observed in obtaining a photo id. These included lack of timely public transportation to and from the facility, lack of knowledge of the staff about the voter id law, inaccurate paperwork, long lines, and how women changing their names on their drivers’ licenses could be disenfranchised.
    This last problem is one I saw in addition to all of the issues for women voting that are raised in Nel’s blog. Here’s what I observed.
    A woman came in and said that she had just gotten married and needed to change her name on her driver’s license. She asked for the paperwork. The employee said rather than filling out the paperwork and paying for a replacement driver’s license, he could give her a piece of paper to carry with her current license showing her new name. Since Pennsylvania’s voter id law requires the name to be “substantially the same” on the voting records and the driver’s license, any woman taking this suggested route could end up being disenfranchised since what is on the id doesn’t match her new legal name and will not match the voting registration if she has made the change with the elections office. Had she gone through the paperwork and paid for the new license, she could have done a voter registration update at the same time since PennDOT is one of the recognized state voter registration sites. None of that was offered.
    As a result of the Commonwealth Court case, the Pennsylvania Voter ID law has been temporarily enjoined. I wrote about the case in January of this year. The second stay came in March and the third one came after the primary. That stay says that until the constitutional issues surrounding the Voter ID law are resolved, photo ids can be asked for but cannot be required. First time voters will still need some form of identification (but doesn’t have to be a photo id; for example, it could be a copy of an utility bill).
    As Nel states at the end of her blog, we here in Pennsylvania are hoping for the same thing:
    “Let us hope that the lawyers will carefully explain to the judges the [constitutionally] discriminatory basis for voter ID laws and that the judges will believe them.”


    Comment by civilrightsactivist — October 25, 2013 @ 10:26 AM | Reply

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