November 5, 2013

GREG ABBOTT, the Republican attorney general of Texas, campaigned long and loud for the state’s new voter ID law. The law is a transparent effort to tilt elections in the state to Republicans by suppressing the minority vote, which is becoming more important as Texas’s demographics shift.

So it was a rich irony that Mr. Abbott, who is running for governor, himself set off alarms as a suspicious voter the other day, along with a state judge, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis,former speaker of the House Jim Wright and uncounted and unnamed others who tried to vote on a set of state constitutional amendments.

The new law, passed by the GOP-dominated state legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, masquerades as a tool to combat election fraud. In fact, as in other states that have enacted similar measures, there is no statistically significant — or even insignificant — evidence of in-person fraud at the polls in Texas.

That didn’t matter to Republicans, who are deeply frightened that Texas’s booming and Democratic-leaning Hispanic population will gradually loosen their grip on the state’s levers of power. By forcing through a new law that requires a government-issued photo ID as a condition of voting, they hoped to weed out black and Latino voters, who (along with the poor and the elderly) are less likely to possess such documents.

The Texas statute goes further, requiring a match between a voter’s name as it appears on his or her ID and as it appears on the state’s registration rolls. That’s a particular problem for married women who have adopted their spouses’ surnames or use their maiden names as middle names after marriage. And it turned out to be a problem for Mr. Abbott, too, who goes by “Greg Abbott” on the voter registration rolls and by “Gregory Wayne Abbott” on his driver’s license.

Under a provision of the law added by Democrats, which allows a voter to cast a ballot if the versions of his or her name are substantially the same, Mr. Abbott was ultimately allowed to vote — but only after he was made to sign an affidavit.

Mr. Wright was not so lucky. At age 90, he no longer drives and has no valid driver’s license. Elections workers rejected his ID from Texas Christian University, where he is on the faculty, as well as his voter registration card, which has no photo. Last we heard, Mr. Wright planned to try again, this time with a certified copy of his birth certificate, to get a state-issued ID that will enable him to vote.

Given those obstacles, it’s hard to imagine how other people — less educated, less savvy and less persistent than Mr. Abbott or Mr. Wright — will manage to cast a vote. Of course, that’s what Texas Republicans are counting on.