Election Birthday Girl Wrestles With 'Voter ID' Law
By: Ed Sills
Reposted with permission from Quorum Report
The "secondary identification" category is something the vast majority of Texans are virtually certain not to have two of.
As fortune would have it, my daughter Graciela Sills was born in Austin, Texas on Nov. 5, 1995. She thus became a 2013 voting baby, qualified by virtue of turning 18 on the very day of the first statewide election under the controversial Texas "voter ID" law.
Guided by a well-meaning Dad who participates in Texas politics as part of his living, my daughter's first adult experience at a polling place was to get rejected.
It's an off-year election, but Gracie was excited about getting her voice heard on constitutional amendments, local housing bonds and a special election in Texas House District 50. She also wanted to vote early for an arcane reason - to take advantage of a rare chance to start exercising the franchise legally at age 17.
In Texas, you can't register to vote until you are within 60 days of your 18th birthday, so the window for registering in Gracie's circumstances was as short as it gets. My boss, Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller, personally and with much delight handed Gracie the voter registration card that she used to mail in the application. The Secretary of State's web site showed Gracie registered by early October, and a voter registration card arrived well ahead of early voting.
Like a growing number in her generation, Gracie decided to put off getting a driver license. Her reasoning: It takes a lot less road time to get the license after one turns 18. My suspicion: The idea of spending 30 or 40 hours being drilled on the fine points of three-point turns and parallel parks by her parents didn't appeal to her. While the actuaries may have to take my daughter into account when setting auto insurance rates in the future, the relevant fact is that Gracie lacks the most common form of identification needed to vote.
We went to vote early as a family on Saturday, however, bringing Gracie's passport instead, which we knew was a legitimate form of ID under the Texas "voter ID" law. To our horror, we discovered that unlike adult passports that last a decade, passports that are obtained by children when they are less than 16 are good only for five years. Gracie's had expired in July.
My daughter didn't have a valid photo ID for voting purposes. No driver license. No personal ID card from the Department of Public Safety. No U.S. citizenship certificate. No passport. No concealed handgun license. No military identification. The photo ID card from school was useless.
The election judge was kind and understanding. He spelled out carefully what Gracie could do next.
Ironically, one way for Gracie to vote without a photo ID would have been to leave town throughout early voting and Election Day, then vote by mail, where no photo ID is necessary. That stratagem had expired and a prolonged absence might have invoked the truancy laws in any event. The vote-by-mail option is also a strange exception in a state where there are virtually no proven voter impersonation cases, but a fair number of proven cases of vote fraud by mail.
Gracie rejected the more realistic option of casting a provisional ballot. She didn't want any conditions attached to her vote. Instead, she chose to seek a free voter identification certificate offered at Department of Public Safety offices. She even woke up early on Monday, an event about as rare as blue moons, to go to our neighborhood DPS office before school.
DPS has issued handfuls of the certificates across the state, dozens and dozens. Maybe it would be tens of thousands if this were an even-year election, but the ins and outs of the new law may not be widely known and the process of getting a voter certificate can be puzzling, maybe even intimidating.
For starters, in addition to filling out a form that is substantially more complicated than a voter registration application, both U.S. citizenship and identity must be verified, and there are quirks to the proof of each.
Not everyone has a birth certificate readily available, and those who don't may have to go to time, trouble and expense to get one (and to get to DPS in the first place). We did have the document, so the citizenship part was easy enough. To prove identity, think in terms of an old-fashioned Chinese restaurant menu, one from column A, one from column B. Here's how it goes, according to the DPS web site:
---An applicant for an Election Identification Certificate (EIC) must provide documents satisfactory to the department to verify their identity. All documents must be verifiable.
---There are three ways an individual can verify his/her identity when applying for an EIC:
---Bring one item listed in the primary identification category; or
---Bring two items listed in the secondary identification category; or
---Bring one item listed in the secondary identification category, plus two items listed in the supporting identification category.
The "primary identification" category is really one thing and one thing only: an expired Texas driver license (or DPS identification card) that meets certain timeline requirements. If you have these documents in the first place, you probably have them up to date and you can vote. Gracie didn't have either one.
The "secondary identification" category is something the vast majority of Texans are virtually certain not to have two of. They are the state birth certificate, a State Department certificate issued to citizens born abroad (think Ted Cruz), a court order okaying a name or gender change, and U.S. citizenship or naturalization papers that don't have a photo. Gracie had just one.
Now she had to go to the "supporting identification" category. There are 28 of those items, but few that a Texas teenager would be likely to have. Among the ones she lacks: an insurance policy, pilot's license, professional license, or inmate ID card.
Gracie went with a Social Security card and her voter registration card. She had a backup or two at the ready, just in case.
We waited about 15 minutes to get to the front of the DPS welcome desk line. The clerk suggested Gracie might want an identification card, since the voter certificate can be used only for voting, but my daughter didn't want to pay to vote. Once we passed the welcome desk, the wait was very brief. DPS is rightly making the voter certificates a priority.
A hurdle arose when a courteous DPS clerk who obviously had little experience with the voter registration certificateS claimed that Graciela could not get one because she already had her voter registration card. We told him that's not what the law says. He checked in the back and got it right, but we had to wonder whether others applying for voter certificate would have stood their ground in that situation.
The clerk took Gracie's photo - and her thumbprints. She got the document and walked out a fully eligible voter, with 20 minutes to spare before school was to start. Early voting lies ahead.
In retrospect, to avoid additional cost in time, gas and aggravation, we should have checked Gracie's passport carefully ahead of time. ("Nice job, Dad....") But the Legislature has to share some of the blame. The "voter ID" law is a jump-through hoop that some eligible Texans will not be prepared to navigate.
Scofflaws looking to impersonate a voter to cast an illegal ballot may outnumber our state's unicorn population, but not by much. Thousands of American citizens and Texas residents who are indisputably eligible to vote yet lack photo ID are being asked to meet costly and unnecessary requirements. They may stay away from the polls and yeah, the new rules will keep mythical creatures from voting.
Here's hoping every ID-less Texan who wants to vote will fade the bureaucracy.