On a bipartisan 21-10 vote, the Texas Senate on Tuesday passed modifications to the state’s photo voter ID law aimed at ensuring it passes constitutional muster while protecting election integrity and preventing voter fraud.
SB 5, authored by State Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Southside Place), updates SB 14 – Texas’ original voter ID law passed in 2011 and under legal challenge ever since – to fix what the court ruled were SB 14’s “discriminatory effects.”
The bill contains changes to Texas’ voter ID law that follow the directive of the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to Huffman. The Fifth Circuit’s July 2016 ruling “provided Texas a roadmap” to address constitutional issues raised by the court, Huffman said when presenting the bill on the Senate floor Monday.
The bill’s key change to SB 14 allows any eligible voter without a photo ID to cast a regular ballot by signing a “reasonable impediment declaration” and showing alternate forms of identification. That mirrors a court-ordered temporary fix to current law that was put in place for the November 2016 election.
The new bill also puts into statute a program started by the Texas Secretary of State in 2013 for mobile units to provide free election identification cards for eligible voters statewide. It also allows voters age 70 and older to use expired IDs.
SB 5 was amended on the floor to let all voters use IDs that have been expired for up to two years, rather than 60 days. Another amendment changed from “knowingly” to “intentionally” the standard for criminalizing lying on voter declarations, which the bill makes a third-degree felony.
Most Democrat Senators remained hostile to the bill, despite several voter ID opponents calling the changes “a major improvement” during public testimony in a Senate committee hearing.
Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Weslaco), the lone Democrat voting for SB 5, initially threatened to vote against it if his amendment adding student IDs to the list of accepted identification didn’t pass. Lucio’s amendment failed after Huffman explained it wasn’t needed, as under the bill any eligible student can vote using the declaration option.
Stronger opposition came from Sen. José Rodríguez (D-El Paso), who voted against the amended bill. He wanted to add several more forms of ID to the list and argued that the bill’s enhanced penalty for perjury on declaration forms amounts to “another form of voter intimidation.”
There is “no definitive relationship between strict voter ID laws and turnout,” according to a March 2017 academic report debunking a recent, widely-reported study that concluded voter ID suppresses minority turnout. The results of that study “are a product of large data inaccuracies” and “the evidence does not support the stated conclusion,” the report’s authors found.
Huffman noted that 80 percent of all Americans favor requiring all voters to show photo identification at the polls in order to vote, according to a 2016 Gallup poll.
“I am committed to constitutionally sound photo ID at polling places so that Texans can have confidence in their free, fair, and secure elections,” concluded Huffman.
The House Elections Committee plans to schedule a hearing on SB 5 as soon as it receives the bill from the Senate.