Texas' recently upheld voter ID law is one of the toughest in the nation. There is little wiggle room for those who, for whatever reason, don't have one of the seven forms of identification deemed to be satisfactory proof of identity by the state: Either sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury saying that it was impossible for you to get an ID or stay home, even if you've been voting for decades. That's not good enough for Dallas Sen. Don Huffines.
The law, according to Republicans, is necessary to stop in-person voter fraud, a problem that doesn't exist on a large scale, according to volumes and volumes of research. Whatever its utility, the law is on Texas' books and in effect, thanks to the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals, which ruled in April that it isn't racially discriminatory.
Huffines wants to make voting even harder — which he made clear Friday during an hours-long Twitter fight with state Rep. Poncho Nevarez — by requiring anyone who wants to vote in Texas to prove his or her citizenship before being registered.
"How do illegal aliens register to vote in Texas? The honor system. We don’t VERIFY the citizenship of applicants to register to vote. That’s gotta stop!" Huffines tweeted, pointing to a photo of a Texas voter registration card, which asks the person filling it out to check a box attesting U.S. citizenship.
It doesn’t happen. You’ve had 1 case. I repeat 1. It was prosecuted and they put the lady under the jail. Slow your roll and find some other group to scapegoat in order to fan that flame that keeps you in Austin. https://t.co/10wBxkdAI6— Rep. Poncho Nevárez (@poncho_nevarez) July 20, 2018
The form goes on to ask for the applicant's driver's license number or state ID card number or the last four digits of his or her Social Security number as proof that her or she is a citizen. Theoretically, it's possible that someone, despite the hefty penalties that illegal voting carries in Texas, could lie twice when filling out the application and make it onto the state's voter rolls. At that point, though, all but those noncitizens who are in the United States legally would be stuck because they'd need a form of ID unavailable to undocumented immigrants to cast a ballot.
Even over the last couple of years, as the state fought voting rights advocates in court over voter ID, which prevented the law from being implemented, cases of people showing up in person to cast ballots they weren't entitled to cast are almost nonexistent. In North Texas, specifically, prosecutors have only found one instance of a noncitizen voting. That case — which ended with a Tarrant County woman, Rose Maria Ortega, getting eight years in prison — attracted nationwide attention because it was so rare, as Nevarez pointed out.
"It doesn’t happen. You’ve had 1 case. I repeat 1. It was prosecuted and they put the lady under the jail. Slow your roll and find some other group to scapegoat in order to fan that flame that keeps you in Austin," Nevarez tweeted.
Huffines responded to Nevarez by pointing to the fact that people are removed from the voting rolls after being declared ineligible for jury service because they're not citizens. He claimed that Nevarez's goal is "non-citizens vot[ing] in our elections."
From there, Nevarez took an easy but potent shot, pointing Huffines to look for real foreign election interference from Russia.
But you’re right about one thing. Foreigners have infiltrated and are attempting to wreck our voting system. They helped elect that whelp of a President. They just happen to be white and live on the other side of the planet. Let’s get on that. https://t.co/10wBxkdAI6— Rep. Poncho Nevárez (@poncho_nevarez) July 20, 2018
Huffines, a Tea Party Republican elected from a district based around the Park Cities, has a couple of problems with his argument, according to Myrna Perez, deputy director of the Brennan Center Democracy Program at New York University.
"I have elections administrators who will go on the record and say that people misrepresent their status to get out of jury duty," Perez says. "Misrepresentation to avoid jury duty is not the same thing as misrepresentation to commit voter fraud."
Dallas County Elections head Toni Pippins-Poole is out of town and couldn't be interviewed for this article.
When voters are culled from the rolls for the right reasons, Perez says, that's proof that the current system works, rather than a reason it should be scrapped.
"Noncitizens are, in fact, removed from voter rolls," Perez says, "and that is as it's supposed to be. He's viewing it as a failure, whereas it seems to me that the system works. Somebody accidentally gets on because they're at the driver's license office or someone put a registration card in front of their face and they didn't quite understand or someone told them they were eligible and they weren't — people getting removed shows that there are checks and balances in the system."
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Requiring proof of citizenship in order to register doesn't solve a problem. Instead, Perez says, it restricts voting rights by making it harder to get eligible voters registered.
"It's a really punitive response. It's really anti-voter," Perez says. "It's not just the impact on people who might not be citizens. How are you going to go in front of the HEB and ask people to register to vote if, in order to do that, you have to say, 'Please give me a copy of your birth certificate or naturalization papers?' No one is going to be able to go into communities and register any appreciable number of voters."
Correction: A previous version of this story said that the types of identification required to vote in Texas elections are unavailable to noncitizens. That's not entirely correct. Some forms of ID on the list, like drivers' licenses, are available to legal residents of the United States. None of the forms of ID are available to undocumented immigrants, however.l