Home » Analysis » Update – That 97-year-old voter could vote after all.

Update – That 97-year-old voter could vote after all.

As is so often the case when someone describes an outrage, facts tend to transform the operatic injustice into something decidedly more banal. So is the case with the Dallas-area 97-year-old transplant from out-of-state, whose son contacted my mother to complain that DPS wasn’t issuing his mother a photo I.D., on the grounds that her certification of birth wasn’t the same thing as a birth certificate.

Well, DPS may still be balking on providing the photo I.D., (for reasons relating to proof of continuous residence in the state, I suspect), but the voter in question had already gotten her voter I.D. card some time ago. A post that consequently stirred up all sorts of excitement turned out not to be about a disenfranchisement after all.

For many years, the Texas Department of Public Safety has been in the official I.D. making business. Most commonly, these official I.D.s are drivers’ licenses of various types (commercial, motorcycle, non-commercial, with or without various endorsements or limitations, etc.) DPS also produces I.D.s that are not drivers’ licenses – these are “personal identification cards.” The various ins and outs of getting drivers’ licenses or personal identification cards are established within Chapter 521 of the Texas Transportation Code, wherein lies the sneaky Section 521.1426 that requires proof of a person’s duration of residence in the state.

Then there’s Section 521A.001, the sole section in Chapter 521A of the Transportation Code. That’s the law that governs issuance of “election identification certificates.” And while drivers’ licenses and personal identification cards work as acceptable forms of identification for purposes of voting, drivers’ licenses and personal identification cards are not “election identification certificates.”

To get an election identification certificate, DPS requires that an applicant “furnish to the department the information required by Section 521.142 [of the Transportation Code].” (Tex. Transp. Code Section 521A.001(f)).

Here’s the information required by Section 521.142 of the Transportation Code:

(a) An application for an original license must state the applicant’s full name and place and date of birth.  This information must be verified by presentation of proof of identity satisfactory to the department.  An applicant who is not a citizen of the United States must present to the department documentation issued by the appropriate United States agency that authorizes the applicant to be in the United States before the applicant may be issued a driver’s license.  The department must accept as satisfactory proof of identity under this subsection an offender identification card or similar form of identification issued to an inmate by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice if the applicant also provides supplemental verifiable records or documents that aid in establishing identity.

(b)  The application must include:

(1)  the thumbprints of the applicant or, if thumbprints cannot be taken, the index fingerprints of the applicant;

(2)  a photograph of the applicant;

(3)  the signature of the applicant; and

(4)  a brief description of the applicant.

(c)  The application must state:

(1)  the sex of the applicant;
(2)  the residence address of the applicant, or if the applicant is a federal judge, a state judge, or the spouse of a federal or state judge using the procedure developed under Section 521.121(c), the street address of the courthouse in which the applicant or the applicant’s spouse serves as a federal judge or a state judge;
(3)  whether the applicant has been licensed to drive a motor vehicle before;
(4)  if previously licensed, when and by what state or country;
(5)  whether that license has been suspended or revoked or a license application denied;
(6)  the date and reason for the suspension, revocation, or denial;
(7)  whether the applicant is a citizen of the United States; and
(8)  the county of residence of the applicant.

Text of subsection as amended by Acts 2009, 81st Leg., R.S., Ch. 1413 (S.B. 1317), Sec. 1, and further amended by Acts 2011, 82nd Leg. 1st C.S., Ch. 4 (S.B. 1) Sec. 72.06:

(e)  The application must include any other information the department requires to determine the applicant’s identity, residency, competency, and eligibility as required by the department or state law.

(emphasis not in original) (S.B.1 is one of those huge omnibus bills. To get to Section 72.06 of the bill, go to the end of the bill and work your way backwards).

If Section 521A.001 of the Transportation Code had said something like “information required by Sections 521.142(b)-(c),” there would be less controversy all around.

Luckily, DPS has not interpreted the law to require applicants for election identification cards to complete driver education courses. And luckily, DPS does not (as far as I know) implement the provisions of the amended Section 521.142(e) to require proof of residency for individuals applying for election identification certificates. But notice the above highlighted language? That was added by the 2011 amendment, raising understandable concerns that applicants for election identification would be required to show the duration of their residence in the state if DPS or the state asserted duration of residence as a requirement in the future.

The problems outlined in the prior post still stand for those who want a personal I.D. or a drivers’ license. But as of right now, the homeless and new transplants can still register to vote and get election identification without having to comply with the requirements in Section 521.1426 of the Texas Transportation Code.

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