The Austin Chronicle

Dirty Tricks in Voter ID Debate?

By Lee Nichols, March 9, 2009, 3:42pm, Newsdesk

Are dirty tricks already afoot ahead of tomorrow’s Voter ID hearing in the Senate?

Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, on Thursday requested – and was granted – an investigation by the General Investigating and Ethics Committee “into dubious allegations of voter fraud in Hidalgo County during the May and November elections of 2008.”

Anchia, who served as chair of an Elections Committee subcommittee charged with investigating different types of voter fraud – and the Democrats’ point man against voter ID bills – wrote to General Investigating Chair Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville, that, “I have recently received and examined questionable affidavits purporting to provide evidence of misconduct during” municipal elections in Hidalgo. (PDF of the letter here.)

“The fact that all of the affidavits were notarized by the same notary public and use similar language raises questions about their veracity. Of further concern is that, until our office brought these affidavits to the attention of the Hidalgo County District Attorney, they had not been delivered to his office.”

Anchia also claims that, as early as Aug. 19, 2008, Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office knew of the “suspicious allegations,” took no action on them, and failed to disclose the existence of the affidavits even after Anchia asked for “an updated list of all referrals related to violations of the Elections Code from 2002” onward, and that Austin Sen. Kirk Watson made a similar request and also got no information on the incident.

“The Attorney General’s failure to include that theoretically pertinent information in his responses is troubling in light of the politicization of this particular issue,” Anchia wrote.

The next day, Hopson replied: “No one opposes voter fraud more than I do. In response to Rep. Anchia's request, I am immediately launching an investigation into this matter. If our committee sees real evidence of voter impersonation in Hidalgo County, I will immediately forward it to the proper authorities for further investigation and prosecution. In addition, allegations that legislators and local prosecutors were kept in the dark about possibly bogus claims of voter impersonation are serious and will be pursued.”

Anchia’s suspicion: That the Republican AG actually withheld the affidavits from Democrats so that Republicans could spring them into Tuesday’s “committee of the whole” that will be discussing a bill to require photo IDs from would-be voters – a requirement that Republicans insist is necessary to stop voter fraud, but Democrats say will disproportionately block women, minorities, and the elderly (groups that tend to vote Democrat) from casting legitimate votes.

"We're highly suspicious of these affidavits," Anchia told the Dallas Morning News. "We wonder if they were going to be used in a Matlock-like moment." Since Democrats have long pointed out that there has never been a prosecution of voter impersonation in Texas, the affidavits would have been needed ammo for the GOP.

“By ‘springing’ the unexamined documents during the hearing, Republicans could counter the mountain of expert testimony and other evidence discrediting their partisan efforts to create barriers to voting,” charged the Democrat-affiliated Lone Star Project.

The AG’s office told the Austin American-Statesman that Anchia didn’t receive the documents by an honest mistake: “[B]ecause of a clerical error, the Hidalgo County election fraud case referenced by Rep. Anchia was labeled as a Dickens County case. The clerical error was neither committed by an investigator, nor a lawyer – and is immaterial to the investigation or prosecution of this or any other case.”

Because of the Senate’s rule that forbids any bill from being debated on the Senate floor unless two-thirds of the membership allows it, Democrats successfully killed voter ID two years ago. This year, Republicans made it the Senate’s first order of business to re-write the rules, suspending two-thirds only in the case of voter ID bills.

Thus, any debate on Tuesday will likely be symbolic, as the GOP’s 19-12 majority can easily pass the bill. The real question is whether it can pass the House, which is split 76-74 in favor of Republicans. On Saturday, Austin Rep. Elliot Naishtat told me he was very worried about the bill, because 11 representatives (“a group of moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans”) had been identified as swing votes still sitting on the fence.

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