Texas to require photo identification from voters

AUSTIN Fri May 27, 2011 7:26pm EDT

Texas Governor Rick Perry makes a point at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington, February 11, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Texas Governor Rick Perry makes a point at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington, February 11, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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AUSTIN (Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry on Friday ceremonially signed a bill making Texas the twelfth state to require photo identification from voters.

"Today we take a major step forward in ensuring the integrity of our electoral process in Texas, a major step protecting the most cherished right that we enjoy as a people," Perry, joined by lawmakers who supported the legislation, told reporters.

The measure was one of the Republican governor's "emergency" legislative priorities for the session, and he's not alone. Republicans across the country are pushing such legislation. This year, more than 30 states have considered adding or strengthening voter identification requirements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Photo ID requirements were signed into law in Wisconsin this week and in South Carolina earlier this month. Kansas also passed a photo ID measure this year that goes into effect January 1.

The requirement is already in place in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan and South Dakota. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton on Thursday vetoed a photo identification bill.

About 11 percent of American adults don't have photo identification, said Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Most states that have passed photo ID laws have not made it easier to get IDs, she said.

"The burdens are still there," said Gaskins, whose nonpartisan organization advocates for protecting voter rights. "Every one of these laws results in suppression of votes without any clear benefits," she added.

But many Republicans say the photo ID requirements deter voter fraud and drive up turnout by increasing voters' confidence in the system. They say it is not too much to ask voters to show photo identification, considering that photo ID is often required to cash a check or make a credit card purchase.

"We just wanted to make sure that when someone steps into that voting booth, that they were who they say they are," Texas State Senator Troy Fraser, the bill's author, said at the signing ceremony.

Democrats say voter impersonation is not a widespread problem, and often argue that requiring photo identification would suppress voter turnout, especially of elderly, low-income and minority voters who may be less likely to have a photo ID than others.

"In 2008, we had too many black folk, too many brown folk, too many poor folk voting," said Democratic state Representative David J. Mack II of South Carolina. As for Republicans, he said, "they can't have that in 2012."

Democrats point to a study by researchers at Rutgers University and Ohio State University, which found that in states that required voter identification, voters were about 3 percent less likely to vote in the 2004 presidential race than in states where voters just had to say their names.

Hispanics were about 10 percent less likely to vote, and blacks were about 6 percent less likely to vote.

Republicans point to the experience in Indiana, where a 2005 photo ID law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jerry Bonnet, general counsel of the Indiana Secretary of State's office, told a Texas Senate committee earlier this year that his state's law didn't hurt voter turnout.

"If the naysayers and conspiracy theorists and armchair social scientists were correct in their prognostications, Indiana would have experienced hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised voters," Bonnet said.

"But hardly any group or individual or circumstance has been found that has genuinely disenfranchised or inconvenienced a voter."

Under the Texas measure, voters will be required to show photo identification such as a driver's license or passport.

Current law in the Lone Star State says that voters have to show a voter registration card -- which does not have a photo -- or an acceptable alternative, such as a driver's license or a utility bill.

(Additional reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, South Carolina; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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