The swirling force of Texas politics

Voter ID Bill Back in Play

By JAY ROOT
|  Thursday, Mar 24, 2011  |  Updated 12:15 AM CDT
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Voter ID Bill Back in Play

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Voters wait outside a polling place in Austin.

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A bill to require Texans to show a photo ID before voting was back on the House floor Wednesday despite repeated efforts by Democrats to derail it.

The legislation has sparked anger and partisan bickering ever since Republican Gov. Rick Perry put it on the fast track at the beginning of the legislative session in January.

GOP lawmakers say it's necessary to prevent voter fraud. Democrats contend the bill is designed to erect hurdles for poor and minority voters who are less likely to have a state-issued ID card.

Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said the legislation would undermine the civil rights that minorities gained after years of voter suppression.

"People are willing to turn back the clock . . . just so they can win close elections," Veasey said. "If you don't have these forms of identification, your vote is going to be thrown in the garbage."

The legislation, as currently drafted, would require voters to present a valid form of state or federally issued photo identification. A driver's license, personal ID card, military ID, passport or concealed handgun permit would be accepted. Voters who don't have an ID could get one for free from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The bill had contained an exemption for elderly voters, but the House stripped it out during deliberations Wednesday.

A similar version of the bill has already passed the Senate, and the legislation is deemed likely to get approval during the 2011 session after being shot down during high-intensity debates in recent years. Rep. Dennis Bonnen, the Houston-area Republican who chairs the committee that approved the House version of the bill, said he didn't understand why it had become a partisan issue.

"I have Democrats, Republicans and independents in my district who think people ought to show ID before being allowed to vote," Bonnen said.

At least eight U.S. states have strict photo ID requirements, according to a late 2010 study by the National Conference of State Legislatures. After Republicans picked up strength in the 2010 elections, photo ID bills are working their way through various state legislatures this year, including in Arkansas, Kansas and North Carolina. GOP sponsors say the Texas legislation is modeled after similar laws in Georgia and Indiana.

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