Monday, October 27, 2014

SCOTUS decision allowing Texas to implement new voter ID law in coming elections assuredly disenfranchises lifelong voters

The Guardian's Ed Pilkington explores the effect of Texas's severely restrictive voter ID law on the state's citizens. In particular, Pinlkington highlights the disenfranchisement of life-long Texan, Eric Kennie, a man who has never even left his hometown -- Austin, TX. Forty-five-year-old Kennie reportedly has voted consistently ever since he turned 18. But, as with an estimated 600,000 of his fellow Texans, SCOTUS's decision allowing the state to impose the new voter ID law -- notwithstanding the district court decision that the law unconstitutionally discriminates against minority voters -- assures his disenfranchisement in the coming elections.

As Pilkington explains, because he doesn't have any of the required ID cards, Kennie must get an election identification card (EIC), which, sadly, will not happen:

To get an EIC, Kennie needs to be able to show the Texas department of public safety (DPS) other forms of documentation that satisfy them as to his identity. He presented them with his old personal ID card – issued by the DPS itself and with his photo on it – but because it is more than 60 days expired (it ran out in 2000) they didn’t accept it. Next he showed them an electricity bill, and after that a cable TV bill, but on each occasion they said it didn’t cut muster and turned him away.


Each trip to the DPS office involved taking three buses, a journey that can stretch to a couple of hours. Then he had to stand in line, waiting for up to a further three hours to be seen, before finally making another two-hour schlep home.


In one of his trips to the DPS last year they told him he needed to get hold of a copy of his birth certificate as the only remaining way he could meet the requirements and get his EIC. That meant going on yet another three-bus trek to the official records office in a different part of town.


The cost of acquiring a birth certificate in Texas is $23, which may not sound much but it is to Kennie. He is poor, like many of the up to 600,000 Texans caught in the current voter ID trap.

But Kennie is a "scrapper," and his meager income makes the cost of obtaining a new birth certificate quite burdensome. 

On a usual day he makes about $15 to $20 from recycling the cans and other scrap. On a good day – after a holiday like Valentine’s Day or Easter when people consume more – his earnings can rise to as much as $40 a day. He has no bank account or credit cards, and no savings – he only deals with cans and cash.


I asked him how much $23 means to him. His said what he does when he feels flush with money is decide to splurge on a special treat for himself and his friends. “I do chicken Tuesday at Popeyes.”




So what passes as a reckless binge for Eric Kennie – a splurge on about $10 worth of fried chicken – is less than half of what he spent getting himself a copy of his birth certificate.


The outcome was perhaps predictable by now: the birth certificate wasn’t up to scratch either. When he took it to the DPS (another three buses there, three buses back, another two hours waiting in line) they told him that the name on the birth certificate didn’t match the name on his voter registration card. The birth certificate has him down as Eric Caruthers – his mother’s maiden name – even though his parents were married at the time he was born.

What options remain available to Kennie? As Pilkington observes, what would be expected of Kennie in order to exercise his right to vote is tragically absurd:

In Eric Kennie’s case, there is no clear way out of the morass. He could go to court and ask for the name on his birth certificate to be changed to correct the error, but that would take hiring a lawyer for a fee that he could not afford.


Or he could swallow his pride and take up the identity given on his birth certificate – turning himself into Eric Caruthers. He doesn’t want to do that – he said it would make his deceased father “turn in his grave”. It would also be profoundly ironic: he would in effect be impersonating someone else in order to get around a law ostensibly designed to root out impersonation at the polls.

Election Law, Right to Vote, Voter ID | Permalink


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