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Wendy Davis outsmarts voter ID law

Wendy Davis could have been barred from voting by Texas’ new law. She was saved only by a change in the law that she herself pushed.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

Wendy Davis could have been barred from voting by Texas’ new law. She was saved only by a change in the law that she herself pushed.

Wendy Davis could have been barred from voting by Texas’ strict voter ID law—along with her likely Republican opponent in next year's governor's race, too. That both will be able to cast ballots is thanks to a change in the law that Davis herself pushed.

Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor next year, showed up Monday to vote early in her hometown of Fort Worth. Several constitutional amendments and other proposals are on the ballot in Texas this year. It’s the first election to be held under the state’s controversial voter ID law, which the U.S. Justice Department has challenged as racially discriminatory.

But when the state senator got to her polling place, poll workers noted that the name on her driver’s license, Wendy Russell Davis, didn’t match that on her voter rolls, Wendy Davis. That meant that under the law, she was required to sign an affidavit swearing that she was who she said she was.

“It was a simple procedure,” Davis told reporters afterward. “I signed the affidavit and was able to vote with no problem.”

But it was thanks to Davis’ own efforts that she even had that option. In 2011, Davis introduced an amendment to the voter ID bill saying that if names are substantially similar but not identical, voters can sign an affidavit and still vote. The original bill as drafted by Republicans would have required voters in that situation to present a document showing a name change—something few people bring with them when they go to vote.

And it gets better—or worse. Greg Abbott, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination for governor, also will have to sign an affidavit, his campaign said, thanks to a similar names mismatch. Abbott, the state attorney general, has defended the voter ID law in court. 

“If it weren’t for Wendy Davis’ leadership, Greg Abbott might have nearly disenfranchised himself," Davis spokesman Bo Delp said.

There’s been intense concern lately among voting rights advocates that Texas’ voting law could still disenfranchise large numbers of women whose names changed when they got married or divorced, as Davis’ did. Davis’ amendment should help, but there’s no guarantee that poll workers will apply it properly everywhere, or that some women won’t be deterred by the procedure.

“There’s a tremendous concern it will create a problem for women who have been legally voting for years to be able to vote...and that they may be surprised by it,” Davis said. “I hope the word will get out.

“I hope we will continue to see women vote as they have in Texas."

Davis gained a national profile this summer when she held a 13-hour filibuster to temporarily stop passage of a draconian abortion bill. (On Monday, a federal court blocked a key part of the law.) But she’s long been a supporter of voting rights. In an April interview with msnbc, she called the voter ID bill “just another step in working to disenfranchise” Democratic-leaning voters.  

“Unfortunately, it has a disproportionate impact on the poor, and unfortunately the poor are disproportionately minority in Texas,” Davis said then.

And Davis led a successful legal challenge to an effort by state Republicans to carve out black and Hispanic neighborhoods from her district through the redistricting process. A federal court ultimately ruled that the scheme illegally reduced the voting power of minorities.