Battle Over Voter ID Legislation

January 19, 2009

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Dave Montgomery

AUSTIN — Legislation requiring photo identification for voters has provoked the first hot-button confrontation of the 2009 Legislature, as Democrats and civil-rights groups unite against an initiative that Republicans say is a top priority of their constituents.

The issue resurrects a partisan battle from 2007, when Senate Democrats blocked a photo ID bill in a standoff against Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the Senate’s presiding officer. As lawmakers returned to work last week, the Republican-controlled Senate pushed through a major rules change to enhance the bill’s chances of passage, igniting an outcry from Democrats in both chambers.

The opposing viewpoints

The Texas Conservative Coalition, the principal organization for conservatives in the Legislature, has made enactment of the ID measure one of its leading priorities. Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who sponsored a photo ID bill in 2007, said that voter demands for greater “integrity” at the voting booth have intensified over the last two years, in part because of widely publicized fraud allegations against canvassers who registered voters for the advocacy group ACORN.

Gov. Rick Perry, in an interview with the Star-Telegram last week, has also signaled his support for the legislation.

But a coalition of civil-rights and advocacy groups are demanding that the Legislature abandon the measure. They say requiring photo identification at the ballot box will disenfranchise the elderly, minorities, people with disabilities, homeless people and other segments of the electorate that are unlikely to have readily available identification.