Minor name disparities mark voter ID roll out


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and Photojournalist ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE


Posted on October 29, 2013 at 6:51 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 31 at 3:55 PM

AUSTIN -- At polling locations across Austin, a slow trickle of early voters are casting their ballots for the first time under the state's new ID law. They are now required to show a valid state-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license.
"It's really turning out to be no big deal," said Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir.
Turnout for the off-year constitutional election is expected to be low, topping out at around 10 percent. Like other elections officials across Central Texas, DeBeauvoir isn't surprised that those showing up at the polls are frequent voters who are well-acquainted with the changes in the law.
Voters who lack the required identification are allowed to cast a provisional ballot. They must then return to the county elections office with the proper identification by Nov. 12 in order for their vote to be counted.
So far DeBeauvoir says only a handful of voters have had issues significant enough to cast a provisional ballot. She tells KVUE that smaller issues have been plentiful. 
"The things that we're finding are a little bit surprising," said DeBeauvoir. "Fifty percent of our voters have some kind of name issue. [A] small name issue that's resolved at the polling place. We didn't think it was going to be that high."
Just this week gubernatorial candidate and State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) told media the name on her identification wasn't an exact match with her name as listed on the voter roll. While it did not prevent her from voting, it is a frequent issue.
DeBeauvoir says the minor discrepancies in Travis County have come largely from women.
"It has a lot to do with married name versus family name or maiden name. We're seeing that a lot," said DeBeauvoir. "We're also seeing a lot of nicknames or middle names." 
After presenting a photo ID at the polling location, the prospective voter's identification is compared against the county's voter registration database. If the names are substantially similar but not an exact match the person is asked to initial an affidavit box in the "combination form" used to check voters in.
The affidavit swears that the person is who they claim to be. After signing they are free to cast their ballot as usual. The measure is due to an amendment to Senate Bill 14 introduced by Davis during the course of Senate debate in the 82nd Texas Legislature. Floor Amendment No. 41 by Davis passed with a unanimous vote.
A federal court blocked the law in 2012 after ruling it was deliberately discriminatory against minority voters. The court's decision was overridden after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a statute of the Voting Rights Act under which the law was challenged. Fort Worth U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX) is one of several who have filed lawsuits attempting to block the law again.
"There is every reason to think the discriminatory Voter ID law will result in fewer Texans voting than would otherwise vote. At this point in the November election, however, it is too soon to draw conclusions," Veasey told KVUE in a statement Tuesday. 
"Local and municipal elections in off years historically have a lower voter turnout, which makes it difficult to draw conclusions from non-representative data," said Veasey. "This election and the new voting law have been shown to present problems for many women who are more likely to have name changes than their male counterparts. We should be making it easier for Texans to exercise their right to vote, not more difficult." 
Gubernatorial candidate and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R-TX) has vowed to continue the legal battle to uphold the law. In a September editorial published in the Baylor Lariat, Abbott disputed the federal court's findings of discrimination. He pointed to the disputed 2000 election of President George W. Bush and both elections of President Barack Obama as eroding confidence in the system.
"Many people have lost faith in the election process," wrote Abbott. "As a country we need to take vital steps to ensure the integrity of elections. The first step in the process is to ensure that only those that are legally allowed to vote actually vote. Government-issued photo IDs are the way to accomplish this."
"To those that oppose voter ID laws, how about instead of trying to incite racial violence and protests, you walk the walk and help those you believe to be poor or disenfranchised without photo ID to acquire a photo ID?" Abbott concluded. "You will benefit them more than just allowing them to vote this November."
Meanwhile election judges have been advised both by the state and county to give voters the benefit of the doubt in determining whether an individual's identification materials are "substantially similar," if not an exact match with information on the voter rolls. 
"We look for the totality of the two identification records," explained DeBeauvoir. "So we're looking at: Do you look like your photograph? Are the birth dates the same on the two identification documents? Hopefully the address is the same, but not always. You want to look at the entire picture that the voter is presenting, and we want to give all the favor that we can to the voter at the time of voting."
Meanwhile DeBeauvoir says voters need not be discouraged.
"Everything's probably going to be fine, and we are there to help you," said DeBeauvoir. "The judges have all been trained to try to help you in the best way they can [to] exercise your right to vote."

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