Texas' voter ID law wasn't in effect for last November's election thanks to an order by a federal appeals court, but it remains on the books of the state's election code. (A refresher: Anyone who shows up to vote must present a photo ID. Handgun permits are okay; school IDs are not. Otherwise, they cast a provisional ballot).
Texas, citing a need to combat the virtually non-existent problem of in-person voter fraud, has appealed the appeals court's ruling and hopes for a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, State Rep. Eric Johnson of Dallas is pushing to make the state's legal battle moot.
Yesterday afternoon, Johnson filed HB 465, a bill that would do away with the voter ID provisions passed by the legislature in 2011. Under his proposal, any voter who presents their voter registration card will be allowed to vote, no questions asked. Furthermore, anyone on a precinct's list of registered voters can cast a ballot without the card so long as they fill out an affidavit swearing that they are to they say they are.
The bill would also reduce the punishment for those caught casting illegal ballots, from a second-degree felony (things like aggravated assault and intoxication manslaughter generally falls into this category) to a third-degree felony (i.e. third-offense DWI and aggravated perjury).
"The ability to cast a ballot is a fundamental right that has come under attack in the last few years," Johnson said in a press release. "I have filed legislation that seeks to reverse this trend in order to protect the rights of all voters, while at the same time making the process more welcoming in hopes of increasing participation."
Johnson filed a slew of other bills, too. One would allow voters to register on election day, and would require polling places to have two registrars on hand for that purpose. Another would extend early voting hours. Yet another would make election days a state holiday, right up there with "Confederate Heroes' Day" and December 26. A final one would require that criminals who are eligible to vote are provided with voter registration forms upon their release from incarceration.
Few of these -- the voter ID repeal in particular -- have more than a snowball's chance in hell of passing the ultra-conservative Texas legislature. But it can't hurt to try, right?
Update at 1:40 p.m.: Johnson thinks the bills have more than a snowball's chance of passing. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that it's too early to predict the exact temperature of hell.
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"It's a different legislature than it was last time," he says. "I don't know what the reception will be from all these new members."
Returning members, too, might want "to wipe the slate the clean" and start thinking of ways that make it easier, not harder, to vote, which Johnson says is his goal. "To me the ability to participate in the process is sort of the basis from which all other issues flow," he says.
In other words, the legislature can only truly represent the public interest when the public is voting. As it stands, a large percentage isn't.
That said, Johnson says he is open to a bill that would tighten rules on absentee ballots, which he says yields "the real voter fraud out there."