Along party lines, Senate advances voter ID bill

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State senators voted along party lines Tuesday night to begin hearing amendments tonight to a sweeping voter ID bill that would require voters to provide adequate government-issued identification before casting a ballot. The bill would require voters to present an unexpired identification card issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety, military identification, a passport or a citizenship certificate with a photograph. Texans over the age of 70 are exempt from the law, and student ID cards or any other type of identification that are not issued by the government will not be valid. Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said the bill he filed on Jan. 12 would minimize voter fraud by only counting votes from eligible voters. “The danger of voting fraud has threatened the integrity of the electoral system,” Fraser said. “Every fraudulent vote effectively steals a legitimate vote.” Legislators introduced a similar bill in 2009, but House Democrats used parliamentary procedures to stall the legislation. Fraser said the department could distribute ID cards for free to make them more affordable and widely accessible. The bill will cost approximately $2 million to implement, and Fraser did not specify how supporters will fund the bill. Senate Democrats said Fraser’s bill included too many restrictions and were concerned about the unintended consequences that will accompany the passage of the bill. “[The bill will] disenfranchise people who are unable to obtain this [ID] card,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, said many citizens are unable to allot the time needed to obtain a new ID. She presented a chart that illustrated the circular process of getting an ID — some form of identification is always needed in order to make a new ID card — to demonstrate the difficulty in obtaining identification for eligible voters. Democratic senators also said many counties in Texas do not have DPS offices, and constituents there would have no choice but to travel considerable distances to find a DPS office. Representatives from different organizations also attended to voice their concerns about the bill. The bill would discriminate against minorities, the elderly and the working class, said Rosa Rosales, founder and director of the National Alliance of Education and Equity. “It’s like bringing back the poll tax, which is regressing,” she said. “Our priorities should be in educating our children, not in creating barriers to vote.”