Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Control Election Fraud Or Control Elections?

Monday afternoon, during the House debate of HB 1706, Rep. Denny (R-Flower Mound) (author of the bill) said she wanted to “maintain the integrity of our election process” by requiring voters show their voter registration certificate and either a photo ID or two other forms of identification. Half an hour or so later, Chairwoman Denny said the bill would make it more difficult for some people to vote than others. When did “maintaining the integrity” of our elections come to mean disenfranchising more voters, especially minorities, seniors, disabled and impoverished people?

HB 1706 has been called a modern day "poll tax” by many because the provisions in the bill could suppress voter turnout. This bill is one of several bills filed this session that would raise voter identification requirements. HB 516 by Brown (R-Bryan), HB 1268 by Bohac (R-Houston), HB 1402 by Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) and HB 1293 by Nixon (R-Houston) all apply more stringent voter identification requirements.

Rep. Denny kept repeating that the purpose of this legislation is to prevent voter fraud. Rep. Strama (D-Austin) asked her for evidence of voter fraud in Texas. Denny provided only an anecdotal story of how one voter bragged to others that she had voted numerous times in different districts. A press release from Rep. Coleman's office says Rep. Jesse Jones (D-Dallas) confirmed that there was little or no documentation cited in the Election Committee (the committee that passed the bill through) to warrant such a major change. It seems implausible that a case of hearsay spawned numerous bills to increase voter identification requirements.

A more plausible explanation is that these bills are the product of ALEC-- the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a corporate-funded, right-wing group that sponsors conferences for state legislators and draws up model bills that it presents to the states. This session ALEC has been pushing voter identification measures in state legislatures across the nation. Rep. Coleman's press release points out that Rep. Denny said “you have to show ID to rent a video at Blockbuster,” which is the same line a top Republican attorney from Atlanta used when speaking with the Texas Civil Rights Review. Coincidence? (Similar bills have been filed, considered, or passed this year by Republicans in Arizona, Indiana, Wisconsin, California, and Ohio). Nor should it come as a surprise to learn that Rep. Denny once served as a member of ALEC.

The bill was amended at least 9 times before it was laid out for discussion this morning. A point of order was called on the bill, and the House should resume debate after 1:30pm this afternoon.