Texas Lawmakers Propose New Voter ID Law

Texas Lawmakers Propose New Voter ID Law
Illustration by Monica Fuentes
After the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found Texas's restrictive voter ID law to be unconstitutional and discriminatory against minorities, Texas lawmakers are proposing a new law to bring the state in line with the federal judges' ruling.

The bill, SB5, filed by Senator Joan Huffman, would resemble the temporary voter ID rules that a district-court federal judge put in place for the 2016 general election, allowing Texans who did not possess a photo ID to still vote using secondary forms of ID, then signing an affidavit explaining that they had a "reasonable impediment" stopping them from obtaining a photo ID.

Under the state's 2011 voter ID law, which was viewed by many experts as the most stringent in the nation, those who didn't have that photo ID would not be allowed to cast a ballot. SB5, however, would ensure that either poor people who can't afford an ID or unlucky people who just got mugged would still be able to vote. People without a photo ID could use secondary forms such as utility bills or bank statements to cast a ballot if they can't obtain the ID for these following reasons: lack of transportation; lack of birth certificate or other documents needed to obtain an ID; their work schedule; their ID was lost or stolen; they have a disability or illness; family responsibilities; or they applied for the ID but have yet to receive it. Election workers are not allowed to question the "reasonableness" of these impediments at the polls.

Even though Attorney General Ken Paxton is still defending the 2011 law in federal court (the case is now about whether the law was meant to intentionally discriminate against minority voters), he had high praise for SB5.

“Election integrity is one of the most important functions of government, and Voter ID is an integral part of maintaining election integrity,” he said in a statement. “The updates to Voter ID that Senator Huffman proposes will make the changes necessary to comply with the Fifth Circuit ruling while ensuring the integrity of the voting process."

While the law may open up the polls to those without photo IDs, it also creates harsh penalties for voting violations. Anybody who lies on an affidavit can be charged with a third degree felony and be sentenced to two to ten years in prison.

Just this month, a legal Mexican resident in Dallas County was sentenced to eight years in prison for voting illegally five times between 2004 and 2014. The woman, a Republican, had said she did not realize that legal residents were not allowed to vote — yet her case will likely become the GOP's favorite example about voter fraud in months and years to come.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn