At least 16,400 Texans who voted in the November election wouldn’t have been able to cast ballots if the state’s voter identification law had been in full effect, state voting records show.
Adopted in 2011 by a Republican-dominated Legislature, the law requiring voters to show one of seven forms of photo identification has been mired in a years-long legal battle, with opponents arguing that it disenfranchises groups that are less likely to carry identification, such as young people, elderly people and racial minorities. Proponents of the law have argued that the measure is necessary to protect the integrity of the vote.
In July, a federal appeals court ruled that the law was discriminatory, and a month later U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ordered the state to soften the ID requirements for the Nov. 8 election, greatly expanding the types of documentation voters could show to prove their identity. Voters using one of the newly approved documents had to sign statements explaining why they couldn’t obtain one of the seven types of ID originally required by the law.
It is difficult to measure the impact of voting laws for a variety of reasons, but the last-minute compromise provides a case study for how many people would have been affected by the voter ID law.
Through a public records request to the Texas secretary of state’s office, the American-Statesman obtained copies of the more than 16,400 Reasonable Impediment Declarations signed by Texans in the November election. More than 2,300 of the forms, legal affidavits punishable with a perjury charge if found to be false, were signed by Travis County voters.
The voters who signed the affidavits were concentrated in urban areas, with six counties alone — Harris, Travis, Dallas, Collin, Tarrant and Hidalgo — accounting for more than half of them.
Those voters arrived to the polls without one of the seven forms of ID, but were able to vote after signing the form and providing a voter registration certificate, birth certificate, utility bill, bank statement, government check or any other government document that included the registered voter’s name and address.
To sign the forms, all of those voters would’ve had to have been registered to vote and to produce documentation proving who they were.
Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said the volume of the declarations validates the concerns that the law’s opponents raised.
“The voter ID law was going to take away the legal right to vote of 2,300 people” in the county, she said. The voters who signed those declarations, she said, “tended to be poor, tend to be elderly — maybe they weren’t born in a hospital or had other extenuating circumstances.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office has defended the law, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Republicans have defended Texas’ law, and ones like it passed across the country, as a way to prevent voter fraud. There is no evidence, however, of widespread voter fraud and much less evidence supporting the idea that there is pervasive in-person voter impersonation, the type of fraud that voter ID laws can prevent.
Democrats have argued that the GOP is pursuing strict voter ID laws because the groups that are most likely to be affected are traditionally Democratic voters.
Former Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, an appointee of Gov. Greg Abbott who stepped down after overseeing the November election, said the potential of 16,400 voters being turned away was less worrisome in light of the fact that about 9 million Texans voted.
“When you put it in perspective, to me it’s not a large number,” said Cascos, a Republican.
Asked if that meant those voters would have been disenfranchised, Cascos said, “I would agree. That is a way to look at it.”
And, he observed, the number of potentially disenfranchised voters “might not be important for a presidential race or a statewide race, but it very well might matter for local votes, where there can be really small margins.”
“At the end of the day, we want to make sure every qualified Texan who can vote should be allowed to vote,” he said, “(16,000) people wanted to vote and got to vote, so that’s great.”
Former state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, who authored the voter ID law, declined to comment on the 16,000 figure, saying the issue was still involved in litigation and that he could be further deposed.
“I am cautiously optimistic that new Supreme Court will validate the bill that I’ve passed,” Fraser said, speaking of President Donald Trump’s nomination of a new justice to the U.S. Supreme Court.