Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said he's expecting the largest voter turnout ever in the county with 1.4 million voters expected to cast ballots this election season. And after the state's restrictive voter photo ID law was struck down by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in July, the replacement law makes room for an estimated 600,000 voters statewide who may lack a photo ID to finally exercise their right to vote for the first time since 2011, when legislators adopted the photo ID law.
Under that law, which was considered among the most restrictive of its kind in the United States, voters were turned away if they lacked a government-issued ID. The appeals court ruled the law had a disproportionate effect on minority voters, who may lack drivers' licenses. Now, any voter without photo ID can bring a utility bill, bank statement, voter registration card or any government document displaying their name and address. They will also have to sign a sworn statement that says why they lack the photo ID.
Stanart says he will investigate everyone who signs that form to assure they are not lying.
"If I suspect someone has fraudulently signed a form saying they don't have that ID, then I think that's an issue," he said. "You can't skip around the photo ID requirement. It's an oath that people are signing. Whether anything happens, that's up to the [Harris County District Attorney's Office]."
Election workers, who will undergo training before the election, are not allowed to question the validity of the sworn statement at the polls. But after the votes are counted and the election ends, Stanart said his office will be checking to see whether a person who signed the sworn statement has a Texas Department of Public Safety-issued ID through the DPS database. If, for whatever reason, a person who actually has a license but decided to go through the trouble of lying under oath that he didn't, the voter is in trouble. Stanart says it is to ensure no one is voting fraudulently—a problem that doesn't actually exist, according to a recent analysis—but says his office won't look into the issue any further than the DPS check. (And if they really are a fraudulent voter, then Stanart says their vote will still count, criminal charges or not.)
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"We will always lean to the benefit of the voter—we don't want people to fall into a trap," Stanart said. "But we do want people to understand, if they have an existing photo ID, they must bring it."
With early voting only two months away, the Texas Secretary of State's Office has launched a court-mandated $2.5 million education campaign to make sure all Texans are aware of the changes in the law before election time. Alicia Pierce, spokeswoman for the secretary of state, says it will include a vast array of TV, radio, print and social media advertisements.
"It is a big mission that we have ahead of us, but we've been preparing for it since January, knowing there could be a change in the law," Pierce said. "We want to meet voters in a surround-sound approach."
Early voting begins October 24 and ends November 4, while Election Day is November 8. The deadline to register to vote is October 11.