News Column

Voter ID Goes Smoothly Despite Women's Complaints, Officials Say

October 29, 2013

Tim Eaton and Farzad Mashhood, Austin American-Statesman

Oct. 29--Democrats -- nationally and in Texas -- have been trying to gain political traction by saying that Texas' new voter identification law is hurting women, but election officials in Central Texas say the law isn't proving to be much of a problem.

The Texas Democratic Party said in an email that "Texans throughout the state -- particularly women voters -- are running into challenges" at the polls because of the voter ID law.

An electronic message from the Democratic National Committee conveyed a similar sentiment: The state's newly implemented voter ID law "is disproportionately affecting women across the Lone Star State." Reports began rolling in as soon as early voting started last week about women having trouble casting ballots, especially those who use maiden names or have hyphenated names, the email said.

But if there are problems, they are not occurring in Central Texas. Election officials in Travis, Williamson and Hays counties have not reported any major problems with women being unable to vote under the law, which was passed by the Legislature in 2011 but was not enacted until this year.

It was used in a few local elections earlier this year without problems, but the Nov. 5 election and the 10-day early voting period preceding it are the first time it has been used statewide.

"It's not a big deal at all," said Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir. Any issues have been "quickly and easily resolved."

Jason Barnett, the elections administrator in Williamson County, also said he hasn't experienced any problems. He teaches his election workers to look at the "totality of circumstances" to determine voters' identities when their names aren't identical on official IDs and voter registration cards.

"It's not a complicated process," he said.

When voters' names on acceptable IDs aren't exactly the same as on the voter rolls, the voters must sign their initials on an affidavit before casting regular ballots. The affidavits are not lengthy legal documents, but rather a box on a form at poll workers' tables.

In Hays County, Joyce Cowan, the county's elections administrator, said the law hasn't brought any troubles.

"We have not had major problems," Cowan said.

The Texas law requires one of seven forms of photo ID to cast ballots. When they pushed the law through, Republicans said it was needed to protect the sanctity of elections. Legislative Democrats, meanwhile, argued that it would disenfranchise some voters.

The Democrats' arguments usually focused on minority and elderly Texans. But these days, the Democrats and voter ID critics are talking about how the law will affect women.

The Democratic National Committee pointed to District Judge Sandra Watts of Nueces County and said she was "turned away when she went to vote."

But Watts, a Democrat, later told MSNBC that she was not turned away and voted after signing the affidavit.

"What I have used for voter registration and for identification for the last 52 years was not sufficient yesterday when I went to vote," Watts said recently in an interview with Corpus Christi's KIII TV.

Gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, also had to sign the affidavit, her campaign said.

Watts and Davis certainly aren't alone.

Election officials in two Central Texas counties said that many people -- men and women -- had to sign affidavits. Cowan said about 40 percent of voters in Hays County signed. About half of all voters took the extra step in Travis County, DeBeauvoir said.

In Williamson County, there were fewer discrepancies. Only about 15 percent of early voters have signed the affidavits, Barnett said.

In each county, voters are able to remedy the problem by asking officials to alter their names on the voter rolls to match their identification cards.

County officials reported that a few voters without proper photo ID cast provisional ballots that require them to return with acceptable IDs for their votes to be counted.

The Nov. 5 election -- which includes several constitutional amendments, including one to create a $2 billion revolving statewide water fund -- is expected to draw a low turnout. In Hays County, turnout was about 1 percent through Monday at noon. Williamson saw closer to 2 percent through Saturday. Travis' turnout has been higher, just over 2.5 percent through Sunday.

DeBeauvoir said this election will provide a good opportunity for workers to practice procedures when voters' names don't match. The real test will come during busy presidential elections, she said.


Forms of acceptable photo ID in Texas:

Texas driver's license

Texas Election Identification Certificate

Texas personal identification card

Texas concealed handgun license

U.S. military identification card

U.S. passport

U.S. citizenship certificate


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Original headline: Voter ID rollout smooth, despite complaints about women being turned away

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Source: (c)2013 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

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