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Debate over voter ID opens in Senate

 

By JAY ROOT Associated Press Writer © 2009 The Associated Press
March 10, 2009, 10:25PM

AUSTIN, Texas — Over vociferous Democratic objections, the Republican-controlled Senate began debating election reforms Tuesday that would require Texans to provide identification papers before voting.

Democrats, comparing the proposal to a modern-day poll tax, tried in vain to delay consideration of the legislation. Republicans say the ID requirements, which would take effect in time for the pivotal 2010 elections, are necessary to stop voter fraud.

The author of the proposal, Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, conjured up images of the old Daley machine in Chicago and of infamous Box 13 — stuffed with votes for Lyndon Johnson in a 1948 Senate race. He says the threat is still there — from non-citizen immigrants, crooks and dead people.

“Voter fraud not only is alive and well in the United States, it’s also alive in Texas,” Fraser said. “I believe the danger of voter fraud has threatened the entire electoral process.”

Democrats contend the so-called Voter ID bill will disenfranchise thousands of voters by erecting paperwork hurdles that will disproportionately impact minorities, the poor, the disabled and the elderly.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, leader of the Senate Democrats, said the measure is designed to shave about 3 to 4 percentage points off of Democratic vote totals in Texas just as the party begins to improve its statewide performance.

“This is voter suppression,” she said.

While Texans already must show either a voter registration card or other identification, Republicans want to add the requirement of a photo ID or alternatives that establish identity. In the event that voters don’t have a valid photo ID — including a driver’s license, passport or military ID — they would have to produce two additional documents, including bank statements, mail from a government entity, a marriage license, and cards used for obtaining government benefits.

Both sides put on a series of expert witnesses during a debate — before a special panel made up of all the senators — that dragged on for hours Tuesday. Republicans called in election officials from Georgia and Indiana, two of the seven states that — according to the National Conference of State Legislatures — require voters to produce a photo ID.

Another pro-GOP expert, former Federal Elections Commissioner Hans von Spakovsky, said voter turnout in both states went up dramatically after the voter ID laws were passed there. Von Spakovsky conceded that prosecution of voter impersonation, the kind of fraud the voter ID proposal is designed to combat, is relatively rare. But he said that’s no reason not to get behind the bill.

“It’s hard to prosecute something when you have the tool to detect it: Voter ID,” von Spakovsky said.

Witnesses testifying for the Democrats included civil rights experts and representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and AARP. Tova Wang, vice-president of the citizen advocacy group Common Cause, said the poor would be negatively impacted.

“Many poor people don’t have cars, fly or go to Blockbuster to rent the latest DVD every weekend,” Wang said. “So this whole notion that everybody’s got ID is just untrue. Many poor people don’t.”

One person who apparently won’t be testifying is Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has prosecuted cases of voter fraud. Democrats described the prosecutions as a costly and unnecessary witch hunt mostly against their voters.

Strickland defended Abbott’s prosecutions, saying the probes have produced 30 indictments, 22 of which have been prosecuted, involving allegations such as non-citizen voter registrations, voting by the dead and voting twice in the same election. He said the effort cost $690,000.

The Senate convened Tuesday morning to consider the legislation. But the two sides immediately began arguing over their own rules as Democrats tried to derail the bill.

“Delay, delay, delay,” said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. “Every parliamentary maneuver — I’m going to use it.”

But delay was about all the Democrats could expect. The Republicans have a 19-12 majority in the chamber and they used it to weaken filibuster rules earlier this year to break a logjam on the legislation. That allowed the voter ID bill to be brought up and passed by a simple majority rather than require a supermajority to introduce it onto the floor.

Though final Senate passage — probably early next week — is all but a foregone conclusion, its fate in the Texas House is less certain. The legislation also faces lawsuits and a potentially dicey future in President Barack Obama’s U.S. Justice Department, which has to sign off on major election changes in Texas and several other southern states.

The partisan tensions could be felt in the public gallery Tuesday above the chamber, where party activists were closely following the proposal. They were warned to pipe down several times, but the crowd thinned out as the night wore on.

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Written by tfheringer

March 11, 2009 at 4:16 am

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