New legislation to modify Texas’s voter ID bill in response to adverse court rulings passed a state Senate committee Monday. It’s definitely an improvement on the original bill. But it seems to go out of its way to make voting as intimidating as possible, especially for already marginalized voters.
The bill would allow voters without acceptable photo ID to instead show certain forms of non-photo ID like a bank statement, utility bill, or paycheck, as long as they signed an affidavit swearing that a “reasonable impediment” kept them from getting photo ID. That’s the approach that the court took in crafting a temporary solution for last fall’s election.
But under the bill, introduced by Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican and a former prosecutor and judge, those found to have lied about not possessing photo ID could be charged with a third degree felony, which carries a 2-10 year prison sentence.
Civil rights groups say threatening those kind of penalties can intimidate some would-be voters who may be hesitant to sign an affidavit under any circumstances, may not understand the ins and outs of the law, and may not be proficient in English. That concern arose last fall when the top election official in Texas’s largest county warned he’d be checking every affidavit and submitting anything suspicious to prosecutors. Attorney General Ken Paxton also let it be known that those who lied on the affidavit “can be prosecuted for perjury.”
It’s all but impossible to know what kind of chilling effect this had on marginal voters. The courts have found beyond any doubt that black and Hispanic voters in Texas are far more likely than white ones to lack ID and need the affidavit option. Ultimately, just 16,400 Texans signed the affidavit in November—less than 3 percent of the estimated 600,000 registered Texans who lack acceptable ID. That suggests the problem with the affidavit option is that it’s being used to little, not too much.
It’s also hard to figure out the legitimate purpose for the tough penalties in Huffman’s bill. If someone has photo ID but lies about it under oath in order to vote illegally under a different identity — and it’s always worth remembering that there’s essentially zero evidence of anyone committing this kind of in-person voter impersonation — they already could be prosecuted for illegal voting. And if they lied about not having photo ID and then voted under their own name, what would they have gained?
Huffman didn’t respond to a request from The Daily Democracy, left with her press secretary, to clarify. We’ll update if she does.