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Texas: Blame Wendy Davis for voting hassles

Texas is telling voters to blame Wendy Davis for the hassle of signing an affidavit to vote. But were it not for Davis, many could have been disenfranchised.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

Texas is telling voters to blame Wendy Davis for the hassle of signing an affidavit to vote. But were it not for Davis, many could have been disenfranchised.

Texas is telling voters to blame Wendy Davis for the hassle of having to sign an affidavit to vote—even though were it not for Davis, many could have been disenfranchised entirely.

In an October 31 letter, Keith Ingram, the state’s director of elections, responded to a voter who complained after being required to sign an affidavit to vote. Ingram correctly pointed out that the voter, Nelda Calhoun, was legally required to sign the affidavit if she wanted to vote, because there was a slight mismatch between her name on her voter ID and her name on the rolls.

But here’s what Ingram—a Republican political appointee of Gov. Rick Perry— wrote next:

As you may know, the legislature passed SB-14 in the 82nd legislative session. Prior to the passage of that bill, a voter like yourself or my mother with a maiden name discrepancy between their approved voter identification and the official list of registered voters did not result in having to sign an affidavit. You and my mother were allowed to sign in and vote without any issue. However, SB-14 changed the law in one important respect. An amendment to the bill in the Texas Senate was offered by Senator Wendy Davis from Fort Worth. This amendment required persons whose name was not an exact match but was “substantially similar” to sign an affidavit that they were the same person and be allowed to cast a ballot.

It’s hard to conceive of a more deliberately misleading way of describing the situation.

Until Republicans passed a voter ID law, known as SB-14, in 2011, photo ID wasn’t required, so the issue of mismatched names didn’t arise. The law as drafted by Republicans provided no recourse for the massive number of voters—often married or divorced women—with slightly mismatched names. That raised the very real concern that people in Calhoun’s position could be barred from casting a regular ballot.

As a result, Davis sponsored an amendment to allow voters with mismatched names to cast a regular ballot, after signing an affidavit. It passed unanimously. Texas’ election this month showed the value of Davis’ measure: Some precincts reported that as many as one in five voters or more had to sign the affidavit because of name mismatches. Both Davis herself, and her likely GOP opponent in next year’s governor’s race, Attorney General Greg Abbott, had to do so.

In other words, it’s true that Davis was responsible for the affidavit. But the letter’s clear implication is that without Davis’ measure, Calhoun and other voters with mismatched names could have voted with no problem. In fact, they might well have been barred from voting entirely.

Ingram’s letter was released earlier this month by the Lone Star Project, a Texas political research firm with close ties to Davis.

In a memo to the Lone Star Project, Gerald Hebert, a former top official in the voting rights section of the Justice Department, called Ingram’s letter “grossly inaccurate,” and “an overt misrepresentation of the facts.” Hebert is currently challenging Texas’ voter ID law on behalf of a group of voters.

Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the Texas Secretary of State’s office, defended Ingram’s letter, arguing that he was under no obligation to explain the fuller context. “The letter makes a factual statement,” Pierce told msnbc.

Pierce indignantly challenged the idea that were it not for Davis’ measure, some voters with mismatched names might have been disenfranchised—but she did not rule it out.

“We can’t hypothetically say what would happen under the circumstances” had Davis had not offered her amendment, Pierce said.