Texas election shows impact of voter ID laws

October 31, 2013
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) had to sign an affidavit to get a ballot (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) had to sign an affidavit to get a ballot (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

If not for Wendy Davis, Greg Abbott might not be able to vote.

When Abbott, the Texas Attorney General running for governor as a Republican next year, goes to vote in state constitutional elections this year, he will have to sign an affidavit affirming his identity. That’s because Abbott’s driver’s license identifies him as Gregory Wayne Abbott, but on the voter rolls, he’s just Greg Abbott, a spokesman told the San Antonio Express-News.

The discrepancy will mean Abbott has to sign the affidavit in order to get a ballot under a new law requiring voters in Texas to show an identification at the polling place. That part of the law, requiring a signature if there’s a discrepancy between names, was sponsored by state Sen. Wendy Davis (D), the opponent Abbott is likely to face in next year’s general election.

Davis voted against the voter identification bill, even though she offered the amendment to allow for minor discrepancies. It’s a provision that many Texans are having to take advantage of this year — including Davis herself. When Davis showed up to vote Monday in Fort Worth, it turned out her driver’s license identified her as Wendy Russell Davis, while the voter rolls omitted her middle name.

Davis and Abbott are far from the only ones to have to attest to their true identities. About one in seven Dallas County voters — more than 1,000 so far — have had to sign an affidavit, according to early voting data collected by county election administrators. While no one has been turned away from the polls, the number of voters who realize a discrepancy in the way their names are labeled worry some Democratic activists who opposed the law in the first place.

“It’s an extra step and an unnecessary consequence of the law,” said Phillip Martin, deputy director of Progress Texas. “Because it’s gotten enough publicity, we’re hopeful it doesn’t discourage anyone from voting.”

If other information doesn’t match — like a voter’s address — they might be required to cast a provisional ballot, Martin said. Provisional ballots are much less likely to be included in final vote counts, because they require voters to prove their identity within several days after the election, which doesn’t always happen.

The Advancement Project, a voting rights group based in Washington, estimates that one in 10 Texas registered voters lacks a photo identification. More than 125 Texas counties don’t have Department of Motor Vehicle outposts or other identification-issuing facilities.

County officials have scrambled to get identifications to as many voters as possible. Tarrant County, which includes Fort Worth and Arlington, sent out mobile identification stations over several days during the last few weeks.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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