After All-Nighter, Senate Passes Voter ID

A marathon session delivers a GOP partisan priority

Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, chaired the committee of the whole.
Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, chaired the "committee of the whole." (Photo by John Anderson)

And you thought Democrats hated DeLay.

No, not the disgraced ex-Congressman – lowercase "delay." They love that.

After a marathon 24-hour session, on Wed­nesday the Senate passed Senate Bill 362, which would require voters to show photo ID in addition to their voter registration card at the polls. The bill passed 20-12 along party lines, with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst taking the unusual step of casting a vote.

The actual vote was preceded by an even more unusual "committee of the whole," composed of the entire Senate, a parliamentary maneuver so that testimony could be heard. Democrats did everything they could to slow the process, hammering bill author Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, with questions and keeping invited and public witnesses on ice for more than five hours. The testimony, once it finally began, took about 15 hours, not ending until Wednesday morning. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio said the delay was necessary so that Democrats could thoroughly document their case for litigation that will surely arise if SB 362 becomes law.

Democrats are determined to stop the voter ID bill, which they prefer to describe as "voter suppression." While Republicans insist the measure is essential to stop voter fraud, Dems point out that voter impersonation (the only kind of fraud an ID might stop) is an almost nonexistent crime and that instead the measure will disproportionately affect the poor, the elderly, women, and minorities – groups which tend to vote Democratic. "Voter ID takes out 3 to 4 percent from Democratic candidates in any election," said Van de Putte. "Six to eight years ago, the Republicans weren't clamoring for this, when they were winning. Now that the margins are slimmer," she said, the GOP is treating this as a critical issue.

Fraser actually tried to use a legendary Democrat to push his bill: Jimmy Carter. He extensively quoted the 2005 Carter-Baker commission's report on electoral reform, in which the ex-president teamed with former Secretary of State Jim Baker and called for a federal voter ID system. El Paso's Eliot Shapleigh threw a Carter quote (from a New York Times op-ed) back in his face: "Since we presented our work to the president and Congress, some have overlooked almost all of the report to focus on a single proposal – a requirement that voters have driver's licenses or government-issued photo IDs. Worse, they have unfairly described our recommendation." (The Carter-Baker reform would have provided such IDs, not placing the onus on the individual voter, as does the GOP initiative.)

Fraser also praised a similar voter ID law in Georgia as a successful model. Shapleigh again went to the same op-ed: "We consider Georgia's law discriminatory," Carter and Baker wrote.

Fraser had the chutzpah to assert his bill would raise turnout: He pointed to Indiana, which has the strictest voter ID law in the nation but also had the fifth-largest turnout increase in the nation – and the greatest among Democrats – between the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. The increase, he said, was because "people felt their vote was secure." Laredo's Judith Zaffirini pointed out the obvious: Perhaps the increases were due to the Obama phenomenon, "and perhaps without voter ID the turnout would have doubled or tripled."

The bill now moves to the House, which, with a 76-74 party divide, could provide for some actual drama. For more up-to-the-minute coverage, see our Capitol blog, austinchronicle.com/legeland.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Texas Legislature, Voter ID, 81st Legislature, Troy Fraser, Judith Zaffirini, Eliot Shapleigh, Leticia van DePutte

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