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Testing Voter ID in Little Elections, Waiting for a Big Vote to Come Along

The effects of requiring voter ID probably won't be evident until March or later, opponents say. Local elections in Galveston and the Rio Grande Valley might offer clues, but the true test, they say, will be in a major statewide election.
The true test of how voter ID will affect voters — and whether it will sway elections — won’t come next month after a special election in Edinburg.

And it might not even come this year.

That’s the assessment of at least one opposition leader, Chad Dunn, an attorney with Houston-based Brazil and Dunn who represents plaintiffs in a current lawsuit seeking to block the law. It requires voters to furnish one of several specified forms of ID before casting a ballot, the most common being a state-issued driver’s license or ID card.

It’s hard to determine the effect before next year's state elections, Dunn added, because turnout for local elections is paltry. Elections have been held in Galveston and are ongoing in the Rio Grande Valley, but the true test will be a statewide or heavily contested election in a toss-up or majority-minority district.

“I don’t expect the law to be enjoined by the primary in March, or whenever it gets moved back because of redistricting,” Dunn said, linking voter ID and another volatile issue, the Legislature’s redistricting efforts, which are also tied up in litigation. The court battle makes it possible the primary elections could be delayed.

Former state Rep. Aaron Peña, an Edinburg native who switched parties in 2011 and championed ballot-box integrity after becoming a Republican, said turnout here is a legitimate test to gauge the effects of the law.

“I know my town, I grew up here. It’s not as big an issue as has been portrayed by the left,” he said. “I am curious to see if there is anyone who does statistics on this election. If there’s a sizeable issue, I am going to be one of the first to say something.”

Peña said he could support is expanding the pool of allowed credentials to include student IDs. But for now, he added, the system is working.

Also at play is how election officials handle complaints or missteps, Dunn said. In Bexar County, he said, officials are likely to resolve issues quickly regardless of political allegiance, race or any other factor. In others, not so much.

“In counties like Harris, which is completely on the voter suppression bandwagon, whatever problems there are, aren’t getting worked out,” he said.

There is also a new twist with respect to the state’s free IDs, the election identification certificates. Those documents can be used only in an election and are given to voters who furnish proof of eligibility, like a birth certificate. Opponents of voter ID say that although the ID itself is free, the costs associated with obtaining the underlying documents needed to get one is the same as a modern-day “poll tax.”

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is considering waiving the $22 it charges to obtain a new birth certificate, provided applicants show they need it to get the free ID to vote.

Agency spokesman Chris Van Deusen said HHSC has posted the proposed change to the rules and asked for public comment. Van Deusen said he didn’t know if anyone for or against voter ID approached the office about initiating the change. A final decision could come in November.

As of late July, the Texas Department of Public Safety had issued only six of the documents, which Attorney General Greg Abbott marked as proof of the state’s argument that most people already have IDs. Next year's elections will probably offer some evidence on that, too.

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