November 5, 2013

SAN ANTONIO — Yes, it’s Democratic State Sen. Wendy Davis, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbottt . . . and me.

Yup: I was caught trying to vote today in Texas. Seems that I was impersonating one “Jonathan Bernstein” when I am actually Jonathan H. Bernstein, or maybe it was the other way around.

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis (Eric Gay/Associated Press)
Texas State Senator Wendy Davis (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

Thanks to Wendy Davis’s amendment, I was able to vote by signing an affidavit saying that I was in fact Jonathan Bernstein (or maybe the other way around; I wasn’t paying much attention to what I was signing, which I realize may not have been all that smart of me). I was distracted, actually, by the big pile of affidavits that the little old ladies at my polling place had on their table. Given that there was nothing on the ballot in my precinct but nine ballot measures placed there by the legislature, eight of which were absolutely dull and one of which, about water projects, was only mostly dull, I was shocked that enough people had voted to generate that big a pile, even if all of us had discrepancies between our names as listed in the voter rolls and our names on our picture ID. (A driver’s license, in my case.)

I asked whether about one in every three voters had had to sign a form, and the clerk agreed with that, although she didn’t seem to think it over much. For small sample sizes, I can also report that two of the four people (myself included) who were there while I was had to sign.

Just to be clear: There wasn’t very much hassle involved. I didn’t put a stopwatch on it, but I’d guess that it was maybe an extra minute or two, certainly no more than three, that I stayed at the desk in order to fill out the extra form. On the other hand, I also had to wait a couple of minutes for the woman in front of me to do her form. Again, this still isn’t exactly a big deal . . . except that if there were any kind of line, it’s easy to picture it backing things up pretty severely. In an understaffed polling place, or one that had fewer well-trained clerks than the one that I voted at, or had less-experienced voters . . .

The clerk who processed me said that I’d be getting a new, corrected voter card in the mail. Still, we’re talking about an election in which fewer than 10 percent in my part of Texas will vote; during next year’s election for governor and other statewide offices, there will be a lot of voters who didn’t participate in today’s minor event. Not to mention that processing and sending out new cards is a colossal waste of time and money (there’s no evidence of any voter impersonation fraud at all in Texas or anywhere else).

The real point, of course, is to make it harder for people to vote so that they won’t vote. Longer lines are a feature of voter ID measures and the exact-name-match requirement, not a bug.  The whole point of doing this is to increase the hurdles for voting, whether it’s getting an acceptable photo ID for those who don’t have one, or just creating confusion about the process. It won’t keep anyone who really wants to vote from getting to the polls (and staying there no matter how long it takes). But for some voters, any steps to make it harder will make them less likely to vote.

The United States already makes it harder to vote than almost any other comparable nation; Republicans — and no question about it, this is a purely partisan effort — are only increasing the gap.