Why voter ID won’t fly in Texas
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.