Encourage citizens to vote – or not

Lack of participation at election time is counterproductive to the efficient operation of a democracy. Theoretically, the more people who vote and participate in the selection of our leaders, the better the result should be. There are even some fledgling democracies in the world who make it mandatory that their citizens vote. While I doubt if such a proposition would fly in the United States, our various levels of government should not engage in activity that would discourage or diminish the number of people voting.

Unfortunately, in the most recent legislative session, one of the top priorities for the Republican majority was passage of a voter ID bill. In theory, as was argued by the majority, the legislation was simply an effort to do away with voter fraud. As revealed in public hearings on the measure, numerous studies and investigations of voter fraud in Texas turned up an infinitesimal amount of fraud, most of which dealt with absentee ballots (which this bill did not address). There were no discernible instances of voter fraud through one person claiming to be someone that he or she was not. The Republican majority, however, pressed on with their high-priority legislation, even sacrificing more than 50 years of tradition in the Senate by ignoring the “two-thirds rule.” Apparently, the Republican Party did little or no homework in support of the legislation. There is no research showing that such a measure would have an appreciable impact on voter fraud without discriminating against a significant number of voters in our state.

This week, the Republicans’ lack of homework jumped up to bite them. The Department of Justice, under Section G of the Voting Rights Act, has found the policy enunciated by this legislation to discriminate against Hispanics in Texas and run contrary to the policies set out by the Voting Rights Act. The Department of Justice repeatedly asked Texas to document with evidence the assertion that the Voter ID Act would not adversely impact the ability of citizens to vote. Attorney General Abbott, who was leading the fight on the effort, failed after repeated requests to offer any evidence that the measure would not adversely impact voter participation in Texas.

Apparently, considerable inquiry has been made as to the facts since the passage of the legislation. It now appears there are about 177,000 Hispanic voters in Texas who do not have the type of ID required by the bill in order to exercise their right to vote. Rejection of the measure apparently means citizens of Texas will be able to vote without paying the price of obtaining a Texas driver’s license or official ID card.

In my opinion, the Department of Justice has done the right thing in striking down this measure, which adversely affects citizens of Texas’ right to participate in elections. The whole matter of forcing citizens to seek some sort of official paper documenting their citizenship is reminiscent of the pre-World War II era when citizens of various totalitarian states such as Germany and Italy were required to have government papers in order to traverse the byways of their country or to engage in day-to-day business. It seems to me the sponsors of this legislation simply yearn for what they remember as the “good ole days” when Texans were required to pay a poll tax in order to exercise their right to vote.

Carl Parker has practiced law in Port Arthur since 1958. He is a 1958 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. Elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1962 and the Senate in 1976, Parker continued to practice law while writing and sponsoring hundreds of bills that became laws relating to every aspect of life in Texas, including many regarding consumer safety.