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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

HB 218 and 626 — Poll Tax Without A Cause

Why are such Herculean efforts being made to pass bills which remedy a problem that doesn't exist?

The answer, in case you're wondering, is probably because it could get those pushing for it reelected.

The Texas House is currently debating HB 218 and 626, which seek to put restrictions on Texans' ability to vote. HB 218 as originally proposed would require you to present both your voter registration certificate and a photo ID or two forms or non-photo ID in order to vote. (At least, that's what it seems like; the ramifications of some particularly sloppy sections of this poorly written bill — you'd think I'd be used to that by now — are left as a separate discussion.) HB 626 would require one to provide a certified proof of citizenship to register to vote. A certified copy of either your birth certificate, passport, or citizenship papers — not the originals, mind you, as you wouldn't get these back — would be the only documents that count as valid proof. And yes, there's a fee for certified copies, so you'll be paying to register to vote. Want to register by mail? No problem — just fill out your voter registration form, put it in an envelope along with the certified copy of proof of citizenship you just paid $30 or more for, put some postage on that baby, and send it off. What postcard?

From a TDP release:

In 2006, the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice found that 25% of African American citizens, 18% of citizens 65 and over, and 15% of voters earning under $35,000/year don't have government-issued photo identification. Roughly half of married women do not have a birth certificate that matches their current legal name... The elderly, renters, college students and newly registered voters are less likely to have additional ID that matches information on the voting rolls, and many don't change the address or photo on a photo ID until renewal.

These bills have been called a "poll tax" by many, including Josh in this morning's roundup. It should be noted that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agrees with that assessment. They found Georgia's 2005 voter ID law unconstitutional on similar grounds. More recently, the legality of Indiana's voter ID law was recently upheld by a panel of circuit judges; the appeal on that is pending. A significant difference, of course, is that unlike Indiana, Georgia — like Texas — falls under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and therefore must get federal approval for any change in their voting laws from the Justice Department. Arizona also passed a similar law that was finally upheld by the Supreme Court, but that law offered free ID cards to voters, while Texas voters would still have to pay for the certified copy of proof of citizenship required by these bills. And even with that stipulation, one of the concurring justices made the statement that Arizona's law should be approved mainly to "provide the courts with a better record on which to judge their constitutionality." That constitutionality issue would seem to be yet another hurdle for this horribly misguided legislation.

But don't we need more stringent verification in place upon registration and in the voting booth to prevent voter fraud?

Seemingly not — and that is the fact that most clearly points to this legislation as an attempt at voter suppression. No one has yet been able to point to a single case of voter impersonation that these bills would prevent. Greg Abbott made a big stink about the voter fraud "epidemic" last year, and spent $1.4 million on a crusade that would end up prosecuting only 13 cases — 10 of which were on technicalities, and only one even alleging that a fraudulent vote was cast — before a court injunction stopped his harassing more innocent (mostly African American or Hispanic) Texans.

Needless to say, the intent of these bills is clear. HB 218 suppresses the vote of students, the poor, and the elderly, and HB 626 effectively makes voter registration drives impossible. Legislators have acknowledged that there is no visible indication of any sort of voter fraud problem for these bills to address. But then again, Republicans know they're losing support in Texas, and every suppressed vote helps keep them in office.

HB 218 is on the floor right now. A handful of amendments have been adopted, none of them substantive. We'll be giving you continued coverage on the status of these two bills, so stay tuned. And, in the meanwhile, if you're in a Republican district, contact your representative and let them know you're not in favor of an unjustified poll tax.

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