First Election Day Under Texas Voter ID Law

State officials say new law has not reduced voters

By PAUL J. WEBER and NOMAAN MERCHANT
|  Tuesday, Nov 5, 2013  |  Updated 4:10 PM PDT
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North Texans headed to the polls Tuesday to vote on several statewide initiatives, including whether to put $2 billion toward a water infrastructure plan -- but not before they were legally required to show a photo ID at the polls for the first time.

Jeff Smith, NBC 5 News

North Texans headed to the polls Tuesday to vote on several statewide initiatives, including whether to put $2 billion toward a water infrastructure plan -- but not before they were legally required to show a photo ID at the polls for the first time.

The first Election Day in Texas under a new photo ID law is being as closely watched for how voters fare under the mandate as how they vote.

FIND YOUR POLLING LOCATION | TEXAS VOTER ID REQUIREMENTS

Republican state officials downplayed the impact of Texas' new voter ID law on Monday, pointing to a nearly twofold increase in recent voter turnout as a response to critics who say the mandate causes problems and possibly disenfranchisement.

Many voters think the new law makes sense.

"I think we ought to be able to identify ourselves, as properly registered and qualified to vote, and I think the methodology of identifying yourself with a photo is appropriate," said Fort Worth voter H.D. Biddle.

Democrats and opponents of the disputed photo identification measure -- which was delayed a year until the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law this summer -- continued to insist the potential for turned-away and confused voters was a real possibility in Tuesday's election.

Others say it’ll disproportionately hurt voters without licenses, like the poor and the elderly.

"I think it is going to affect a lot of people who don’t have drivers licenses, or who have expired licenses, especially the elderly," said Jennifer Cox.

Jennifer Cox is a high school civics teacher, and said there was a lot of confusion at her precinct in Benbrook.

"The two people ahead of me in line had middle initials on their voting cards, but on their driver’s license the name was fully spelled out. So they had to wait and sign the affidavit saying the two identifications didn’t match," she said.

"And I had a problem too, I left my voting card at home, even though I had my driver’s license with me and it matched the form, I still had to sign saying I didn’t have my correct voting card," she added.

Cox worries about a "chilling effect" with this new law--that any hassle this election would keep voters away in the future, particularly women.

"I think it’s going to be a huge problem, as women who have just gotten married or divorced are all going to have to sign all those forms. I think it will keep a lot of people away from the polls."

Texas residents will vote on nine proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution, and headlining the ballot is a drought-fighting plan that would take $2 billion from the state's Rainy Day Fund to accelerate new water projects statewide.

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott said opponents of the voter ID law had "run out of claims" about alleged hardships.

"I haven't ever seen anything that was overhyped as much as some partisan efforts to overhype concerns about this, when in reality, there has been no problems whatsoever," Abbott said.

Most of the attention surrounding the law's rollout is about affidavits some voters are being required to sign at polling places, offered when there's even the slightest variation between a name on an official ID and how it appears on voter rolls.

Abbott, who is running to replace Gov. Rick Perry in 2014 and defended in court the voter law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011, said he signed an affidavit when he voted Thursday and dismissed it as no big deal.

Early voting has nearly doubled from 2011, the last off-year elections in Texas, according to state officials. More than 317,000 people have already voted in the state's 15 largest counties, up from 168,000 two years ago, Secretary of State John Steen said.

Steen said the attention surrounding the rollout of the ID law might be driving more voters to the polls.

Democrats have worried that some voters will be entirely unable to vote. The latest big name to join that chorus is former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright, who said this weekend he was denied a state ID card. Wright, 90, said an expired driver's license and a university faculty ID card were not enough to get a state ID from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

By Monday, Wright said the problem was resolved but expressed concern about the "nuisance." He also questioned the conservative presumption that voters are trying to defraud the system.

"It's unfortunate ... that we look for ways to disqualify people," Wright said.

Democratic activists also accused state officials of politicizing enforcement of the voter ID law after a rural county Democratic Party chairwoman filed a grievance with Steen's office. Nelda Couch Calhoun said she was asked to sign an affidavit because her maiden name wasn't on the voter rolls.

Her formal complaint drew a written response from Keith Ingram, the state's elections director, who pointed out that Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis was responsible for an amendment that included the affidavit provision.

Davis, who is running for governor, has defended the unanimously passed amendment as a voter safeguard. Ingram wrote that his office regretted "any inconvenience that this portion of the law has caused voters."

Matt Angle, a Davis adviser and director of the pro-Democratic group the Lone Star Project, called the tone of the letter "overtly political and partisan" for a state official.

Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for Steen's office, said the language was "is in no way a political statement but meant simply as an acknowledgement of the voter's feelings."

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