Why voter ID won’t fly in Texas

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION - John tAn­ner tan­ner is a for­mer chief of the vot­ing sec­tion of the u.s. Jus­tice depart­ment’s Civil rights di­vi­sion.

It has started again. Pro­po­nents of voter ID re­quire­ments are pre­par­ing an­other push, con­fi­dent that the law is on their side. In fact, they are back­ing into a buzz saw.

On the sur­face, the pro-ID group has rea­son to be com­pla­cent. It won in the Supreme Court in In­di­ana, which had the most re­stric­tive ID re­quire­ment in the nation, and also in Ge­or­gia. Those states, how­ever, are a world away from Texas.

The key in both cases was the fail­ure of the op­po­nents of the In­di­ana and Ge­or­gia ID laws to pro­duce any­one who could not vote be­cause they did not have an ID. The hand­ful of peo­ple who lacked an ID could eas­ily get one at the nearby county seat, which they vis­ited fre­quently as part of their reg­u­lar rou­tines. The courts saw the prob­lems as in­con­se­quen­tial.

In­stead of ac­tual vic­tims, the ID op­po­nents of­fered ex­pert tes­ti­mony that hun­dreds of thou­sands of reg­is­tered vot­ers lacked IDs, but each ex­pert anal­y­sis was thrown out un­der the rule re­ject­ing “junk sci­ence” as ev­i­dence. The Ge­or­gia ex­pert listed the fed­eral judge him­self as not hav­ing an ID. The judge was not amused.

Let’s be clear. The pro-ID re­quire­ment crowd has re­lied on hot air rather than facts. Its case rests on the myth that crowds of peo­ple are go­ing to the polls and pre­tend­ing to be some­one else. The fact is that cases of voter im­per­son­ation are as rare as hens’ teeth. But when nei­ther side has had ev­i­dence, the courts have up­held ID laws out of def­er­ence to the leg­is­la­tures.

The Supreme Court has made clear that anti-ID forces can and will pre­vail if they can pro­duce ac­tual in­di­vid­u­als whose right to vote will be de­nied or abridged by an ID re­quire­ment.

Wel­come to Texas.

Texas is a unique state with a unique pop­u­la­tion mix, unique size and unique geog­ra­phy — among other unique char­ac­ter­is­tics. What might be true in In­di­anapo­lis will not be true in the Rio Grande Val­ley.

In In­di­ana and Ge­or­gia, county seats are lo­cal busi­ness, com­mer­cial and com­mu­nity hubs. Lo­cal res­i­dents visit them of­ten in the nor­mal course of their daily lives. Those with­out cars catch a ride with a friend or rel­a­tive, as they can in much of East Texas.

But so much of Texas is dif­fer­ent. Take Pre­sidio County. Marfa, the county seat, is a tiny town of 2,121 souls no­table mainly as an oa­sis of min­i­mal­ist art. It sits at the north­ern end of the county, while most county res­i­dents live 89 miles away over rough moun­tain roads in the town of Pre­sidio.

Min­i­mal­ist art is not on the front burner in Pre­sidio. More than 40 per­cent of the res­i­dents live in poverty. More than 70 per­cent of those older than 65 have a dis­abil­ity. More than 94 per­cent are His­panic.

Marfa doesn’t of­fer much rea­son for Pre­sidio res­i­dents to visit, at least for those who don’t crave some grilled radic­chio with gor­gonzola or need a gi­ant metal sculp­ture. For peo­ple with­out cars, it takes a lot to per­suade a neigh­bor to fill the pickup truck with gas and drive you 120 miles from Pre­sidio to Marfa and back.

For those down the road in the 88 per­cent His­panic com­mu­nity of Red­ford, the round trip is more than 150 miles. In a neigh­bor’s old truck, that might be 20 gal­lons of gas plus wear and tear — more than $100 by cur­rent govern­ment re­im­burse­ment rates — plus a day gone and wages lost for both of you. That is the sort of un­rea­son­able bur­den on vot­ers that will per­suade a court.

If voter ID op­po­nents need vic­tims, cit­i­zens who will face un­con­scionable bur­dens un­der a voter ID regime, they can find them in Pre­sidio. And Pre­sidio County is part of a pat­tern.

Texas coun­ties are big, es­pe­cially along the Rio Grande. A dozen Texas coun­ties are twice as large as the en­tire state of Rhode Is­land. Ten of the 12 are more than 50 per­cent mi­nor­ity. Of the 32 coun­ties over 55 per­cent His­panic, 27 are larger than Rhode Is­land.

Voter ID pro­po­nents think that when they face the in­evitable court chal­lenge to any law they man­age to pass, they’ll have a slam dunk. They might find that they are the ones who’ll get slammed and dunked. And that they have wasted an­other leg­isla­tive ses­sion chas­ing wild geese while the real prob­lems of Texas re­main un­ad­dressed.

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