Texas tries again with kinder, gentler (sort of) voter ID law

In an effort to rescue their controversial voter ID law, Texas lawmakers have passed a modified version of the measure which they hope can pass muster with the courts.

The new bill was approved Sunday by the House 92-56 after previously winning passage in the Senate. It’ll now go to Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican and staunch ID backer, who’s expected to sign it.

The new legislation allows voters who can’t get photo ID to vote by presenting one of several forms of non-photo ID, including a paycheck or utility bill. They must also sign an affidavit swearing that a “reasonable impediment” stopped them from getting photo ID.

It’s essentially the same rules that were temporarily in force last November, after a federal appeals court ruled that the ID law as written discriminated against racial minorities, who are less likely than whites to have acceptable ID. A lower court judge found that Texas had intended to discriminate, a ruling that could lead to the state once again being required to “pre-clear” any changes to its elections rules with the federal government. Republicans are aiming to avoid that fate by modifying the ID law.

Still, they’re not backing down entirely. The new bill would expose anyone who falsely swore that they didn’t have photo ID to potential felony charges, including up to two years in prison. The purpose of the provision remains unclear, since anyone who lied in this way in order to vote illegally would already be committing a felony. Voting rights advocates say the only likely result of the provision will be to intimidate some legitimate voters.

In addition, The Texas Tribune reported, Republicans stripped out two potentially beneficial provisions. These would have required the secretary of state’s office to study the reasons for Texas’s consistently woeful turnout record, and to release information about its spending on voter education efforts for the ID law.

The state spent $2.5 million last year to educate voters about the law, after being ordered to do so by a court. But a post-election study, as well as on-the-grounfd reports, suggested there was still widespread confusion at the polls.

“The attempt was to try and bring some type of transparency, state Rep. Justin Rodriguez, a Democrat, who had pushed the provision about voter education efforts, told the Tribune. “My concern is basically handing a blank check over to the Secretary of State’s office.”

Going back well over a decade, Texas has been able to cite just two cases of in-person voter impersonation of the kind that could have been stopped by the ID law.

Photo: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (Creative Commons)

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