Texas gov signs new voter ID plan

Texas gov signs new voter ID plan
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Friday signed legislation reforming his state’s controversial law requiring voters to show ID at the polls, just a week before a scheduled hearing before a skeptical federal judge.

The new measure will still require voters to show ID at the polls, but it would allow voters to show non-photo identification including a bank statement or a utility bill that includes both their name and their home address. Anyone showing a non-photo ID would have to sign an affidavit attesting to their identity.

Texas passed what voting rights advocates considered the most onerous voter identification requirement in the nation back in 2011. The initial version required voters to show one of only a handful of state-issued identifications; that list included a firearm permit, but a student identification wasn’t considered good enough to count.

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The Obama administration’s Justice Department twice blocked the new law under the Voting Rights Act, which required some states — including Texas — to seek clearance before changing election laws. 

After the Supreme Court struck down pre-clearance requirements in 2013, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals maintained a block on the Texas law because it effectively discriminated against minority voters. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos had scheduled a hearing in ongoing litigation over the voter identification requirement for next Wednesday.

In a statement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) said the changes would comply with the 5th Circuit’s concerns over the initial legislation.

“Preserving voter ID will prevent fraud and ensure that election results accurately reflect the will of Texas voters,” Paxton said.

Voting rights advocates are still concerned about a provision in the reform bill that would make it a felony to lie about access to a photo identification. Anyone convicted of lying on the affidavit, if they show a non-photo identification, could be punished with up to two years of jail time.

“That’s nothing but state-sponsored suppression of the vote,” said Tariq Thowfeek, a spokesman for Texas’s state Democratic Party.

Abbott also signed legislation Thursday that would end straight-ticket voting, effective in 2020. Rather than just checking one box atop the ballot to cast a vote for every candidate of one party, voters will be required to fill in the bubble for a candidate in every individual race.

Texas is one of nine states that still allow straight-ticket voting. A U.S. District Court struck down an effort to end straight-ticket voting in Michigan in 2016, which they said disproportionally impacted African-American voters.

Thowfeek said the end of straight-ticket voting will impact Democratic voters, who tend to use the one-box-checks-all form more than Republicans.

“Democrats are performing significantly better on straight-ticket voting, and I don’t think Republicans can point to any study or hard evidence that [an end to] straight-ticket voting results in a more informed voter for down-ballot races,” he said. 

“All this is going to do is create longer lines at polling places.”

A handful of other states have ended straight-ticket voting over the last decade, including New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and West Virginia.