Spears Thinks Voter ID Is 'Reasonable'

County's voter registrar at odds with her party key issue

Nelda Wells Spears
Nelda Wells Spears

Throughout his campaign to oust Travis Co. Tax Assessor-Collector Nelda Wells Spears in the Democratic primary, former state Rep. Glen Maxey has criticized the 16-year-incumbent – who is also the county voter registrar – for not going to the Legislature to speak out forcefully against so-called voter ID laws, which would force voters to bring a photo ID either when registering to vote or in addition to their voter registration card to the polls. But in a meeting last Friday with the Chronicle's editorial board, Spears dropped a bombshell: She supports voter ID.

"I didn't think there was a need for me to go to the Capitol and talk about [voter ID]," Spears said. "I read [House Bill 626, from the 2007 session], and there were certain things in it that allowed for a person to show identification when they register to vote. Okay. Most people have some kind of identification. It could have been a driver's license; it could have been a state ID card; it could have been a work badge; a utility bill. There was a list of things that could have been used as proof of identity when filling out the voter card. And it seems simple enough to me. The law says you have to be a U.S. citizen to vote, so they want you to show proof that you're a U.S. citizen. ... I think it's reasonable to be asked for identification if it's to prove citizenship."

For a Democratic incumbent to take such a position is no small matter. Democrats have strenuously battled Republican-led ID requirements in the past two Lege sessions, almost to the point of fisticuffs, on the grounds that women, the elderly, the poor, and minorities – groups that tend to vote Democratic – are less likely to have a photo ID. Plus, they argue that since obtaining an ID inherently costs money, such a requirement would be a de facto (and unconstitutional) poll tax. Capitol Democrats such as Rep. Rafael Anchía of Dallas point out that cases of voter impersonation at the polls are virtually nonexistent and argue that the voter ID push is really a GOP smoke screen to disenfranchise Democrats. Spears may as well have just handed Maxey a club to beat her with.

And beat he did. Quickly after the meeting, Maxey updated his campaign website with the headline "Breaking News! Spears sides with Tom Craddick."

"It is shocking that a Democratic elected official would side with Republicans on this attack on our voting rights and is another reason we need change at the Travis County Tax Office," Maxey wrote.

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