Voting while married gets a bit trickier in Texas

Earlier this week I wrote about the possibility of more women running for office in the United States. In something of a one-step-back development, a new voter ID law in Texas could make it more difficult for some women to vote.

The problem is that the law requires a voter to produce a photo ID with his or her current legal name—which can be difficult not only for those who don’t have driver’s licenses, but also for those who have changed their names after getting married or divorced.

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The website Think Progress has been reporting on the issue, beginning with a piece by Carimah Townes, who noted that obtaining or updating an official voter ID requires “original documents verifying legal proof of a name change, whether it is a marriage license, divorce decree, or court ordered change – they are prevented from using photocopies.”

That was followed by Scott Keyes’s post on an 84-year-old woman who has voted for more than 60 years and is now having trouble getting a state-issued voter ID card (she doesn’t drive) because of a lost marriage license. And on Monday, Aviva Shen wrote about a district judge who ran into difficulty because her driver’s license has her maiden name as her middle name (whereas her voter registration has her real middle name). The source is a news report from KIII-TV:

[Judge Sandra] Watts has voted in every election for the last 49 years. The name on her driver’s license has remained the same for 52 years, and the address on her voter registration card or driver’s license hasn’t changed in more than two decades. So imagine her surprise when she was told by voting officials that she would have to sign a “voters affidavit” affirming she was who she said she was. […]

“This is the first time I have ever had a problem voting,” Watts said.

Nueces County elections official Diana Barrera said to be prepared.

“Yes, it will impact the elections. It will slow the process down, I would imagine, because they will have to fill out a little bit more information on the provisional vote envelope, so it can affect it,” Barrera said. “So it’s real important to get the word out.”

It will slow the process down. That’s the important part here. The state of Texas will not disenfranchise women—especially married women—in huge numbers. Judge Watts appears to have been able to cast her ballot, but with the extra step of signing an affidavit first. But anything that slows down lines at polling places will have a disproportionate impact on urban voters and on low-income voters who have only so much time before they have to give up and go to work, take care of children, etc. (Many of us take for granted that “I was voting” is a valid excuse for being late to work; it isn’t for a lot of people.)

Judge Watts may have caught a break because she was a longtime member of her community, perhaps known to the poll workers. A first-time voter, or one who has recently married or moved, might not be able to simply sign an “I swear” form in order to cast a ballot. Texas is offering free voter ID cards at “mobile stations” across the state, but applicants must produce birth certificates or passports, and those aren’t free to obtain.

Texans have some ballot questions to vote on this year, but we won’t really know the effects of the new ID law until 2014’s high-profile gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races. Even if there is a noticeable drop in voter participation, however, there’s little chance that the law will be streamlined or revised. Making it harder for certain groups to vote is now considered a legitimate political strategy.

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