AUSTIN (AP) – Governor Rick Perry signed a measure Friday that requires Texans to show photo identification before voting, making the bill into law surrounded by conservative lawmakers who have been fighting for such a requirement for years.
Perry declared voter ID a legislative emergency at the beginning of the session, and its passage marks a major Republican victory in a partisan fight spanning several legislative sessions.
Republicans say the law is necessary to prevent voter fraud and make elections fair. Democrats say it will do the exact opposite, by keeping minorities and the poor away from the ballots and boosting conservative voter margins.
“This is what democracy really is all about,” Perry said. “It’s the integrity of every vote; that every vote counts. Today we take a major step in protecting the most cherished right of Americans.”
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said history shows that voter turnout increases when there is a photo ID requirement at a poll because citizens feel like their right to vote has been protected.
The law would require voters to present a valid state or federal photo ID. A driver’s license, personal ID card, military ID, passport or concealed handgun permit is acceptable.
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 for their votes to count. The state can issue free IDs to be used specifically for voting if someone doesn’t have one of the accepted forms of identification.
“We just wanted to make sure that when someone steps into the voting booth, they are who they say they are,” said Republican Sen. Troy Fraser, the Senate sponsor of the legislation.
The law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, makes illegal voting a second-degree felony and attempted illegal voting a state jail felony.
With a 101-49 supermajority in the House and 19-12 majority in the Senate, Republicans knew this was their year to win the fight.
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, and Republicans predict it will survive any legal challenges.
“This is a big day for voter integrity in Texas,” Speaker of the House Joe Straus said.
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