Texas' Voter ID law -- which requires that voters show election officials an approved and up-to-date photo ID in order to cast a ballot -- has long been a point of contention. Since the Lege passed a voter ID requirement in 2011, many of its opponents have questioned whether the law unfairly singles out minorities.
While a legal challenge kept Texas' law from taking effect in time for the 2012 election, the landmark US Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder last year invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, paving the way for Texas to implement its brand new(ish) voter ID law in time for the November 2014 general election. Another lawsuit filed last year in federal court that challenges the law is set to go to trial in Corpus Christi next week. If the state prevails, November 2014 could be Texas' first high-turnout election with a voter ID requirement.
According to VoteTexas.gov, Voter ID is pretty much the law of the land for now, even if the courts have yet to settle the issue:
In 2011, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 14 (SB 14) creating a new requirement for voters to show photo identification when voting in person. While pending review within the judicial system, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, which effectively ended all pending litigation. As a result, voters are now required to present an approved form of photo identification in order to vote in all Texas Elections.
The problem with this equation? Well, opponents of the law say that if you're a poor minority, chances are you're less likely to have an acceptable photo ID, which means you're less likely to vote.
Don't believe us? Check out these handy maps assembled by Dr. Gerald Webster, a geography professor who filed the maps in court this summer.
The maps that Dr. Webster compiled are broken down by demographics in Houston (and in every other Texas metro area), from minority neighborhoods to areas with little access to transportation. If you compare those maps to the one showing where residents are less likely to have photo ID, the pattern is pretty astounding.
The above map shows the areas of Houston that are predominantly black.
This map shows poverty in Houston.
And the above map here shows the areas of Houston with the highest percentage of people without an acceptable voter ID. Looks familiar, no?
Finally, here's map of the areas of Houston showing access to a vehicle. Starting to see a trend?
What we see here is the higher cost to participate in the voting process for people already living in poorer parts of town. If you want to vote, you must take time away from work to travel to a DPS office within the city in order to obtain a photo ID.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
That gets even harder when there's no access to personal transportation, which obviously puts low-income residents at a disadvantage. And in Houston, that disadvantage is pretty significant. The average travel time to a DPS office for a person with a vehicle, one-way, is about 10.5 minutes. Not too bad for a city as spread out as Houston. But if you're taking a bus to a DPS office to get that photo ID, you're looking at about 66.7 minutes worth of travel time -- in one direction. Oh, and that's not factoring in the distance from one's home to the bus station, and from the bus station to the DPS office -- which can add even more travel time.
So, it basically takes Houston's bus-riders -- i.e. folks in areas where they can't afford a car -- about 6.3 times longer to get approved ID so that they can vote. That might be a slight hindrance, no?
If you're already poor and you can't access your local DPS office in a feasible, cost-effective way, chances are you'll be less likely to get an approved ID than those living in richer neighborhoods who have cars. Which means you'll be less likely to vote.
That's cause and effect.