AUSTIN (AP) – The Texas House passed hotly debated legislation Monday requiring voters to show photo identification before casting ballots, sending to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk a measure he declared an “emergency” item for the legislative session.
The 98-46 vote adhered to party lines, with Republicans largely saying the measure is necessary to prevent voter fraud and Democrats countering that it could make it harder for the state’s poor and minority voters to go to the polls.
Perry’s signature will mark a victory for Republicans on an issue that has split along partisan lines for years. It requires voters to present a valid state or federal photo ID. A driver’s license, personal ID card, military ID, passport or concealed handgun permit would be accepted.
Republicans pushed a voter ID bill through the Senate in 2009, but it stalled in the House in the final weeks of that session. Senate Republicans again got the bill through that chamber back in January.
The Senate and House had already approved similar versions of the bill and spent the last month working out a compromise on minor provisions. The last version approved by the Senate last week and the House on Monday allows the state to issue free IDs to be used specifically for voting if someone does not have another acceptable form of identification.
Those expected to require new IDs are mostly people who have religious objections to having their picture taken or have lost their IDs in a natural disaster. Voters without IDs could cast provisional ballots but would have to show identification within six days to have their votes counted.
The proposal also makes illegal voting a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison, and up to $10,000 in fines, rather than the current third-degree felony.
Final approval did not come without more than an hour of discussion on the House floor, with opponents noting that the proposal will cost the state between $1 and $2 for each new ID issued exclusively for voting — but that officials aren’t sure how many Texans will actually require the new cards.
That led to a bit of a role reversal. Democrats argued against the unnecessary spending, with the bill’s conservative supporters maintaining that those getting new IDs will be too few to make a major fiscal difference.
Rep. Patricia Harless, the Houston-area Republican who carried the bill in the House, said those eligible for the new voting IDs fall into “a small universe.”
But Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, said: “Just because you don’t know the cost, doesn’t mean there won’t be one.”
Democrats also took issue with the precise language of the final version of the bill, which said provisional votes would be accepted — raising objections about whether that actually meant they would be counted.
“We’d have a difficult time going back and telling people, ‘we passed legislation that doesn’t ensure your vote will be counted,”‘ Davis said.
Harless said that during long hours of previous debate both in the House and the Senate, the belief was that requiring ID would actually increase voter participation among all demographics and income levels. She ducked questions from detractors, however, about whether that assessment would extend to what they called “black and brown voters.”
Harless has previously argued that those going to the polls ought to meet the same ID requirements as people renting movies, boarding airlines or cashing checks.
At least eight states have strict photo ID requirements, according to a late 2010 study by the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Texas bill is modeled after similar laws in Georgia and Indiana.
Outnumbered 19-12 in the Senate and 101-49 in the House, Democrats knew they were likely to lose the fight this year. Republicans say the U.S. Supreme Court has already blessed the kind of legislation proposed for Texas and predict it will survive any legal challenges.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)