Elections committee chair Todd Smith has researched the history of Voter I.D. legislation in Texas. He shared his findings with me. In 1997, Elections chair Debra Danburg, a Democrat, brought HB 330 to the floor. The bill amended the Election Code to require an election judge to ask for a photo I.D. in the event that a voter did not have a voter registration card and his name did not appear on the voter rolls. If the voter did not have a photo I.D., the election judge could not allow the voter to cast a ballot. The bill was not controversial. It passed out of committee by a vote of 9 to 0. Steve McDonald of the Texas Democratic Party registered in favor of the bill. So did Mary Ann Collins of the Republican party. The House Journal records merely that “HB 330 was passed to engrossment.” This means that the bill passed on a voice vote. No member registered his opposition to the bill in the Journal, so all members are presumed to have voted aye. The following Democrats who are currently members of the House were shown as present on the day when the bill passed to engrossment and thus can be presumed to have voted for the bill: Burnam Chavez Coleman Davis Dukes Dunnam Dutton Edwards Eiland Farrar Flores Gallego Giddings Hochberg Hodge T. King McClendon McReynolds Naishtat Oliveira Olivo Pickett Raymond Thompson S. Turner Thompson was not shown as present on the day when HB 330 passed on third reading. So, what happened between 1997 and today to make Voter I.D. such a white-hot issue? The answer, I believe, goes back to the Bush 43 presidency and to Karl Rove’s decision to make an issue of voter fraud. This in turn led to the uproar over Bush’s firing of U.S. attorneys who declined to prosecute for voter fraud. Here is an excerpt from Rove’s speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association in 2006: “We are, in some parts of the country, I’m afraid to say, beginning to look like we have elections like those run in countries where the guys in charge are, you know, colonels in mirrored sunglasses. I mean, it’s a real problem, and I appreciate all that you’re doing in those hot spots around the country to ensure that the ballot—the integrity of the ballot—is protected, because it’s important to our democracy.” Readers will recall that the first fight over Voter I.D. in Texas had taken place a year earlier, when Mary Denny (who had been a co-author of Danburg’s bill in 1997, tried to pass a more restrictive photo I.D. bill in 2005. But it was Rove’s involvement in the issue, and the subsequent nationwide publicity over the firing of the U.S. attorneys, that really got the Democrats’ attention. I don’t know whether a photo I.D. requirement will reduce Democratic voting, but it appears to Democrats as if Republicans think it will, and that is why the battle is raging.
Sign up for the Armadillo
Weekly dispatches from the middle of the road of Texas politics.