Sessions: From Vodka to Voter ID

Dems rally to fight voter ID law

Austin Sen. Kirk Watson threw in a gratuitous plug for a local business at the Texas Democratic Party Convention: With his voice starting to weaken as he carried out his duties as convention chair, he took a sip of clear liquid – presumably water – and then held it up and said, "Tito's Vodka is one of the world's finest vodkas, and it's made right here in Senate District 14."

That was among the lighter moments in a convention otherwise devoted to symbolic fence-mending, in a state where literal fences (of the border kind) remain a divisive issue. With state demographics changing rapidly, the Dems hope to fight off GOP efforts to restrict voting rights by means of voter ID laws, likely to be an issue in November and beyond.

"People on the right think that Mexicanos are coming across the border in buses to vote for Democrats. Look, I was on the school board, I could not get any undocumented people to come to a PTA meeting. They were not gonna go vote. It's just not gonna happen."

That was among the closing remarks by Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas at a panel on fighting against voter ID laws Saturday morning at the Texas Democratic Party Convention here in Austin. Delegates listened to Anchia, Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis, Laurie Vanhoose of the Texas Election Reform Coalition, and attorney Daniel B. Kohrman of AARP discuss what will likely be the big battleground issue at the Legislature next year – in fact, it's already been the subject of battles in the previous two sessions, and is currently engaged across the nation.

Republicans are pushing hard across the country for laws that require proof of citizenship to register and photo IDs to vote. Demo­crats counter that voter impersonation – the crime such laws would supposedly address – is virtually nonexistent, and that thousands of Texans who might not have a photo ID (and can't afford to get one) will be disenfranchised. Last year such bills passed the Texas House but were stopped after bruising floor fights in the Senate.

"People always assume I wear pinstripe suits," said Anchia. "I always tell them that those aren't pinstripes – they're tire tracks from getting run over by the Republicans on this issue." Anchia noted the story of 12 nuns who were prevented from voting in Indiana, where a voter ID law was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, even though some of the nuns presented expired passports. "This idea came from a Republican think tank," said Ellis. "And it wasn't done to raise confidence in the vote. Americans haven't lost confidence in the vote; they've lost confidence in their elected officials."

Democrats say that because getting photo identification inevitably costs money, it amounts to a poll tax, and Ellis said Repub­lican arguments for voter ID are similar to old arguments for poll taxes. "They used to say: 'Hey, $1.50 is the price of a hamburger. You should be willing to pay that much to vote.'" Now, Ellis said, Republicans argue that going to the time and expense of obtaining an ID is a similarly low burden – but, Ellis said, it is one that the poorest of citizens might not be able to pay. The real motivation behind the laws, Ellis and Anchia said, is that groups most likely to not have ID are also those more likely to vote Democratic.

A major problem that has caused anti-voter ID lawsuits to fail, Kohrman said, is that courts ask, "Where's the beef?" – they want to see the harm done. The problem is that the suits are filed before the laws take effect, before anyone has been harmed. For that reason, Kohr­man said, Democratic activists need to collect stories of would-be voters that may have been turned away from the polls, so that attorneys will have a substantial body of evidence to present at trial. "About one-third of our state offices around the nation are gearing up to fight voter ID laws," Kohrman said. "This is just the beginning of a very long battle."

See for play-by-play convention coverage from Richard Whittaker and Lee Nichols, and see all of the weekend's speeches at

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