Dear Mr. Premack: I know that the November elections are months
away, but I was just listening to a radio show talking about the new Texas
voter ID law. They said that older voters may be rejected at the polls.
I’ve been voting in my district for decades, but I am now 87 years old and
I don’t have a driver’s license any more. Is there something I should be
doing to be sure I have a hassle-free visit to the voting booth in
November? – E.S.
The Texas legislature passed a new voter
identification law in the 2011 session, intended to be effective January
1, 2012. This type of voting regulation must be approved by the Department
of Justice (DOJ) to be sure the law is not infringing on a citizen’s
constitutional right to vote. Of the 83 voting law changes the Legislature
passed, the DOJ preapproved 65, is reviewing 17, and rejected 2.
The Texas voter ID law is one of the two that was rejected in March 2012
by the DOJ. It concluded that the ID law could have a large impact on the
ability of minorities to cast ballots. Texas responded by filing suit in
federal court to have Section 5 of the Voters Rights Act declared
unconstitutional (claiming that the federal government has no power to
regulate voting rights). As of last month, the lawsuit was moving slowly,
and the court has expressed dismay over its perception that the Texas
Attorney General’s office was dragging its feet producing necessary
records. The case is set for trial in early July if all the discovery
deadlines are met.
Let’s assume for a minute that Texas wins. How
would the new law affect senior citizens who want to vote?
new law will require any voter to show a photo ID from a limited approved
list. The ID can be a Texas driver’s license, an “election identification
certificate”, a DPS personal ID card, a US Military ID, a US citizenship
certificate, a US passport or a Texas concealed handgun license.
Seniors are specifically disadvantaged (for voter ID purposes) by a Texas
law called “Katie’s law” passed by the Texas legislature two years ago.
Katie’s law requires anyone 79 or older to appear in person to renew a
driver’s license, and to pass prescribed fitness tests related to driver
safety (but not related to ability to vote). It also provides that the
license of anyone age 85 or older expires on the second birthday after the
date of the license application. For example, if someone gets a license
renewal at age 84 then the driver must appear and be tested at age 86.
Failure to appear, or failure to pass the exams, means the voter will not
have a driver’s license. No license equals no voting, unless you get one
of the other approved IDs.
What about the other forms of ID? It
takes a few months to get a passport. The new “election identification
certificate” must be obtained from the Texas Department of Public Safety,
they will only issue one if the applicant has no other acceptable form of
identification, and as of now they don’t have a system set up to issue
them at all. The DPS personal ID card is more routine, but you must apply
in person at a DPS office, fill out an application, must present proof of
identity and proof of Texas residence, be fingerprinted, and pay a fee.
That can be hard for an elderly individual to manage, so begin now while
you have time!
The Texas Voter ID law says if you don’t have
proper photo ID you will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. However,
for it to be counted, within 6 days after the election you’ll have to
travel to the county election office to present your photo ID. For many
seniors, that sets a deadline that is too short and is a hassle that may
just cause them to skip voting.
The new Texas law does have some
exceptions. If you 1) have a religious objection to having your photo
taken, or 2) have no ID because of a natural disaster (as declared by the
President or the Governor) then you can cast a provisional ballot, and
travel to the county election office within 6 days to sign an affidavit
claiming the exemption. Further, if you have a disability under Social
Security or a VA disability of at least 50%, and have no photo ID, you can
vote by presenting your voter registration card and written proof of the
disability issued by Social Security or by the VA.
Once again: be
prepared! Your voter registration card will no longer be adequate to allow
you to vote if the new law is approved. Get the proper documentation or
get your approved photo ID. If you don’t do so, and if Texas prevails in
its lawsuit, then you may be denied your right to vote in the upcoming
Federal court rejects Texas voter ID law
By | Associated
Press – 08-30-2012
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal court on Thursday rejected
a Texas law that would require voters to present photo
IDs to election officials before being allowed to cast
ballots in November.