By Chris Hoenig
A rash of new laws that make it harder for Blacks, poor people and other underrepresented groups to vote have come under the legal microscope, but there’s a new law in Texas that targets a different demographic: women.
The new law, which takes effect on Election Day, Nov. 5, requires that all voters present identification that contains their most up-to-date, legally recognized name. A birth certificate alone is not enough to determine proof of name and must be accompanied by at least two supporting documents. If your name has changed from what’s on your driver’s license or passport—which occurs most commonly for women—an official document, such as a marriage license, divorce decree or court-ordered name-change form, is needed to verify your identity.
To make things even more difficult for women looking to vote, all of these documents must be originals; photocopies are not accepted. Obtaining a certified copy (if the original is lost, missing, damaged or stolen) carries a $20 fee if you’re willing to take the time to wait for it to be processed. If you don’t have hours to spend waiting, additional fees are required to have it mailed.
The changes to the existing ID requirements were seemingly small—just a few added words—but the impact is big. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice, which is located at the NYU School of Law, found that only 66 percent of women over 18 have a qualifying document that has their current legal name.
In other words, roughly one-third of women in Texas are left without the ability to vote right now.
Law’s Impact on the Governor’s Race
Timing is everything, as they say, and the timing and context of the new law is increasing the attention it is receiving. Texas Governor Rick Perry, who assumed office when George W. Bush left for the White House in 2000, announced in July that he will not seek another term. Attorney General Greg Abbott, a staunch supporter of the new law, became the instant favorite to replace Perry … until a woman entered the race.
Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, who made a name for herself on the national stage after an 11-hour filibuster that ultimately delayed a vote on a controversial abortion bill, announced on Oct. 3 that she is running for governor. Almost overnight, polls showed Abbott’s lead in the governor’s race dropping to single digits.
Abbott had already set up a campaign targeting the female vote, touting his record on collecting back-due child support as attorney general. But Davis’ stand for women’s rights—literally, since Texas law did not allow her to lean on a podium during her filibuster—makes women potentially the most important demographic in deciding the election. Suddenly, the pro-women Abbott is forming political action committees (PACs) to launch attack ads against his female competitor.
If elected, Davis would be only the third Democrat in the last 35 years to hold the post and just the third woman governor in the Lone Star State’s history. The last female governor (and last Democrat) was Ann Richards, whose daughter Cecile Richards is President of Planned Parenthood, which is backing Davis.
The Supreme Court’s decision on voting rights in June made it easier for Texas, which had been subject to “preclearance” provisions of the Voting Rights Act, to change election laws without the approval of the federal government.
Since the ruling, several states have passed new, more restrictive voter-ID laws that largely target Blacks, poor people, the elderly and other underrepresented groups—many of which are typically more left-leaning. The U.S. Department of Justice is already fighting new voting laws in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, raising the possibility of legal action against Texas.
The person charged with defending the state against such a lawsuit Greg Abbott, who has sued the Obama administration at least two dozen times as attorney general, making the two very familiar foes in the courtroom.