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Monthly Archives: October 2014

Story of A Disenfranchised Voter

I saw on Rick Hasen’s blog that he had already posted this link to a Guardian story about Texas voters – the story is as good an illustration of the profound wrongness of Texas voter I.D. law as any I’ve seen.


Taking Advantage of the Ebola Scare By Taking Advantage of the Ebola Scare

On Friday, the Austin-American Statesman ran one of those dreadful space-filling stories that the media seem drawn to like moths to a flame. Staff reporter Jonathan Tilove’s  page A1, above the fold story entitled “Why Ebola is a perfect storm for Texas Democrats,” is the print journalism equivalent of the kind of click-bait faux-think pieces that infest websites like Buzzfeed, and that are so nicely satirized by The Onion’s “Clickhole.”

The story, (mostly behind the Stateman’s paywall) is an airy editorial that carries itself aloft on the reductionist B.S. argument that the current Ebola panic is “bad for Democrats” in Texas, all because a patient happened to die of Ebola in Dallas.

This is an example of what happens when reporters who are at a loss to make stories out of the actual news decide to manufacture some news in order to fill column inches. One can easily imagine a journalist spit-balling story ideas in a bull session with a few colleagues. “Oh, if only I could figure out how to squeeze the word ‘Ebola’ into this story of the November 4, 2014 general election. Because Ebola. And Ebola.”

There may well be internal “metrics” that show newspapers with the word “Ebola” on the front page show an X% spike in same-day sales, or that news websites with the word “Ebola” see an increase in page views. Or whatever.

To summarize, Mr. Tilove’s story is built on the general observations of various experts in the until-now invisible academic field of election epidemiology. The article is based most prominently on a gross generalization of findings by John Alford of Rice University, John Hibbing and Kevin Smith of the Political Physiology Lab at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and Christopher Frederico at the University of Minnesota’s Center For the Study of Political Psychology.

As has been noted in other sources, people who self-identify as conservative are arguably or potentially more likely to be emotionally activated by basal endocrine responses to fear and disgust than are people who self-identify as liberal. To the extent that one can draw conclusions from statistical variations in human responses to stress, conservatives could be said to be slightly less capable of logical reasoning in the face of fear than the general population, and could arguably be appealed to more effectively by fearmongering.

But I suspect that Drs. Alford, Hibbing, Smith, Frederico, and others would be the first to caution against extrapolating from general observations about fine-grade statistical variants in intellectual capacity among voters to any sort of specific predictions about outcomes in particular elections, and for all I know, the people studying the field of political physiology might be unhappy about the way that their research is being portrayed in this news story.

Let’s accept for the sake of argument that conservatives are more prone to being “spooked,” and are, as a group, less capable of rational thought than liberals (As a liberal, nothing makes me happier than being able to cite sociological studies that show liberals really are smarter, more intellectually evolved, and more competent than conservatives, so of course, all this statistical analysis is wonderfully affirming).

Does it follow from this premise that Texas Democrats are in trouble because a West African visitor to Dallas was unlucky enough to have Ebola, and was further unlucky enough to experience the dispiriting crappy health care offered by a Texas hospital? Couldn’t the narrative just as easily been “Texas Democrats Poised to Benefit from Mismanagement of Ebola By Conservative Policymakers?”

An accumulation of unrelated circumstances and facts (even when all these circumstances occur at roughly the same time) does not mean that these circumstances and facts are causally related to each other. An irrational fear of Ebola does not translate into political support for specific Republican candidates in the 2014 election in Texas.

The only reason why Mr. Tilove’s story is a narrative about the “poor hapless Democrats,” is because Mr. Tilove decided to slant the story as a narrative about the “poor hapless Democrats.” The story wears its political assumptions and subjective bias on its sleeve. I could just as easily write a story subtitled, “Fear of spiders, gas station restrooms, and clowns among stupid voters could create backlash against Democrats within blocs of stupid voting groups, experts say.”

In fact, as a useful corrective to Mr. Tilove’s embarrassingly awful feature story, let me redraft it as follows:


“Disgusting” bathrooms in Dallas, elsewhere, could create backlash against rational voting, expert says

Filthy gas station restrooms are causing particularly dull-witted voters to side with the Republican Party, just weeks before the statewide election.

The tendency among the managers of independently-owned local gas stations to neglect routine maintenance and cleaning is helping feed doubts among particularly obtuse voters about Democratic chances.

The political problem that filthy gas station restrooms pose for Democrats in Texas, and in midterm elections nationally, could be even more fundamental. The story of experiencing a particularly rank bathroom, in which a desperate driver stops at a “mom-n-pop” convenience store, only to be repulsed by the conditions in the rattrap semi-detached shed behind the air pumps, is the quintessential issue more likely to provoke a gut reaction from conservatives than liberals, and draw them to the polls, according to Rice University political scientist John Alford, a cutting edge researcher on the physiology of ideology.

Republican Voters Swayed By Vomit, Diarrhea

“There are two things that conservatives are attuned to more and react to more — signals of threat and signals of disgust — so [filthy gas station restrooms are] a gift to the Republicans in this election that you’ve got exactly those two things dominating the national news,” Alford said. “Every time someone in the news is talking about projectile vomiting and diarrhea, I think, `The Republican vote just went up another half percent.’”

Alford’s work, published in leading peer-reviewed science journals that are totally not made up, we swear, is part of a growing body of work cutting across the fields of political science, psychology and biology linking conservatism to more of a survival instinct.

“[Restroom cleanliness is] a very well-positioned issue for the Republicans,” Howard Lavine, a University of Minnesota political scientist, said of the issue. “It activates both a threat and disgust response.”

A national study found a correlation between a state’s high level of “contamination disgust” — for example, people who were loath to drink from someone else’s soda or eat at a restaurant where the cook has a cold — and support for Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, according to a 2011 article in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Social psychologist Ravi Iyer, chief data scientist for Ranker.com — a website where 18 million participants rate things and where a toilet seat was recently ranked as the fifth-dirtiest thing you encounter every day — said fear of public restrooms is most pronounced in the conservative South.

Fear and disgust

Americans generally disapprove of the way Obama has handled the public restroom cleanliness crisis so far, according to an Associated Press poll released Thursday. Republicans in Texas have seized on questions about the federal response to restroom sanitation.

For conservatives, the Obama administration’s failure to enforce more frequent restroom disinfecting is of a piece with its failures to contain the Islamic State militant group or secure the southwestern border or to defend the White House perimeter from an intruder last month who made it to the East Room before being tackled by the Secret Service.

Texas’ voter identification law, which the Obama administration is fighting in court and Abbott is defending, comes under the same rubric. For conservatives, “ballot security has the same kind of emotional appeal,” said Alford, who was chosen by Abbott to be the state’s expert witness in the state and federal redistricting case (not that he’s biased against Democrats, or anything).

Alford’s research with John Hibbing and Kevin Smith, both affiliated with the Political Physiology Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and other collaborators, have found that conservatives tend to have a stronger startle reflex than liberals.

In an experiment they wrote about in 2008 in the journal Science, the researchers used eye movement sensors to determine that the political conservatives in their study tended to have a harder involuntary blink response to a startling noise, indicating a heightened “fear state.”

In this and another experiment, Alford and his colleagues also used sensors on the subjects’ fingers to measure changes in the skin’s conductance of electricity, a precursor to sweat, when they were confronted with a threatening image, such as a snake ready to strike, or with a disgusting image, such as maggots in an open sore.

In both cases, conservatives tended to have a stronger response to the images, suggesting that at least at some basic biological level, conservatives are just not very smart.

The stronger reaction to threat, the researchers found, is correlated with a more conservative stance on questions of national defense, border security and immigration, while the heightened sense of disgust correlates with a more conservative stance on gay marriage, abortion and other social issues.

‘Physiological perfect storm’

Both physiological responses are rooted in the survival instinct. A sudden noise might alert one to an imminent danger. “The role of disgust in the avoidance of disease, one of the primary sources of mortality over the years, makes it essential to survival,” Alford, Smith, Hibbing and three co-authors wrote in a 2011 article in PLOS One, the largest open-access science journal that I was able to find through Ask Jeeves.

“When you make people fearful about disease, they become more wary of outsiders,” said Christopher Federico, a scholar at the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Political Psychology. “It is how our distant ancestors would have coped with disease back when the evolutionary process was very harsh.”

While filthy gas station restrooms might particularly rouse conservatives, Federico said it might also awaken that latent instinct across a broader swath of the electorate.

For Texas Democrats, the emergence of filthy restrooms as an issue in an already challenging year is nothing but bad news.

“It’s a kind of physiological perfect storm,” Alford said. “I can’t think of an issue that you could pick that would be worse (for Democrats) for uniting those two traits. You could be physiologically disturbed by filthy restrooms if you are a `threat conservative,’ or if you are a `disgust conservative,’ or, if you have both of those reactions.”

“If the Obama administration had acted decisively and been lucky [with respect to filthy restrooms], and basically handled this, it could have suppressed conservative reaction,” Alford said. But now, he said, “so close to the election, you get this kind of emotional reaction, there is basically no time to dampen that down by a successful policy response. It’s there, and this becomes the physiological backdrop to the decisions about turnout and vote direction and also the political discussion.”

Boo to the Statesman for running an Abbott campaign ad in the guise of a news story.

Sub-Rosa Approval of Veterans Health Cards As Voter I.D. In Texas

A reader (Frank Provasek) has provided extremely valuable and eye-opening information in his comment on my post about Veasey v. Perry and the State’s selective, politically motivated treatment of veterans’ I.D.s. Without any public announcement or acknowledgment, the Secretary of State now accepts veteran’s health I.D. cards as voter I.D.s in the polling place, encouraging further cherry-picking, ad hoc after-the-fact administrative legislating, and pandering to specific conservative voters.

Although you may have seen Mr. Provasek’s comment already, I wanted to highlight it for those of you who may not regularly check subsequent developments on my posts. I’m reproducing Mr. Provasek’s comment in full:

Texas DPS defines military ID as a primary form of ID, and defines Veterans cards not as a primary or even secondary form of ID, but merely “a supporting document” like an electric bill with your name on it. . The Veterans cards are pictured in a PDF file here http://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/forms/id/acceptable-forms-of-ID.pdf

The VA created a NEW card called Veterans HEALTH Identification Card (VHIC) to go alongside the Veterans Identificatiion Card (VIC) The new card rolled out in Summer of 2014, so even AFTER the regular Veterans ID cards were somehow added in 2013, an additional card was added in 2014, while the Veasey v Perry lawsuit was underway.

You wouldn’t know these veterans cards are accepted by a text search on the SOS website (or any state website). They are only shown as images in powerpoint or pdf files — and do not show up in a Google search. They are not mentioned in the law, the election code, nor on the state voter portal here http://votetexas.gov/register-to-vote/need-id/ or on the posters displayed at the polling places http://votetexas.gov/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/poster-8.5×14-aw.pdf

(Emphasis added).

Ginsburg Wasn’t So Wrong About Texas and Veteran’s I.D.s

As a number of news organizations have noted, Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in Veasey v. Perry contained a minor factual error – originally, the dissent contained a sentence stating that Texas did not accept veteran’s I.D.s as acceptable forms of photo I.D. in the polling place.

In fact, this statement was true when S.B. 14 was signed into law in 2011veteran’s i.d.s were not acceptable forms of identification, specifically because they were not subject to regular renewal, and were not regarded as the equivalent of active military i.d.s.

Really, the statement that the law doesn’t permit the use of veteran’s I.D.s is still true, or at least would be true, but for a clever bit of sophistic maneuvering by the State.

Nothing in the language of the law has changed between 2011 and now, and so Justice Ginsburg’s mistake is entirely understandable. In fact, to have not spoken in error, she would have had to know about the unwritten internal politics surrounding the implementation of the voter I.D. law.

When Section 63.0101 of the Texas Election Code was amended to impose the requirement for photo I.D., subsection (2) of that section defined one form of acceptable I.D. as being “a United States military identification card that contains the person’s photograph that has not expired or that expired no earlier than 60 days before the date of presentation.”

Media sources and veterans groups castigated the law for what what veterans groups saw as a betrayal of their constituency. The outrage caught Governor Perry and the bill drafters by surprise, and came at an awkward time for Governor Perry (who was at that time campaigning for the Republican nomination in the 2012 Presidential election, and who was touting his support for a strong military).

The proponents and drafters of the Texas picture I.D. law had been so eager to disenfranchise minorities, the poor, the disabled, the elderly, and students, etc., that they had rushed headlong into accidentally disenfranchising a large, politically active, and vocal voting bloc with symbolic importance for conservatives.


The political reaction was swift. After delicate consultations (the rumblings of which are lightly hinted at within an October 17, 2013 memo issued by Keith Ingram, which among other things, urges county election officials to “discard” earlier materials regarding voter I.D.), the Secretary of State determined that the proper interpretation of the law was that veteran’s I.D.s were acceptable because they didn’t expire (glossing over the fact that technically, veteran’s I.D.s are not military I.D.s, and veterans are not members of the military). But things were briefly touch and go between groups touting veteran’s rights and the State of Texas.

Of course, what the episode illustrated in a more general way was the fundamental hypocrisy of the 2011 law – that the law was subject to ad hoc changes in its application and textual interpretation to benefit one group of voters over another, if those voters happened to be “the right kind of voters.”

Veasey v. Perry – Commentary and Fallout After the Supreme Court Order

There have been a number of news stories and editorial commentaries regarding the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to allow Texas to conduct an illegal election; here are a few of particular interest –

Scott Lemieux at The Week asks why the Supreme Court allowed Texas to hold an unconstitutional election (his answer, more or less, is that the conservative justices are more loyal to the Republican Party than they are to the preservation of their own legal principles – http://theweek.com/article/index/270228/why-the-supreme-court-is-allowing-texas-to-hold-an-unconstitutional-election

In a witty, angry piece, Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine describes the GOP strategy to simultaneously attract and disenfranchise minority voters – http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/10/gop-trying-to-woo-suppress-minority-vote.html

Rick Hasen describes the importance of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s canary-in-a-coalmine dissent from the Supreme Court’s order, in Slate – http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2014/10/ginsburg_s_dissent_in_texas_voter_id_law_supreme_court_order.html

Professor Hasen also tracks down a minor factual error in Justice Ginsburg’s dissent – http://electionlawblog.org/?p=67193

The Dallas Morning News (that hotbed of liberalism) takes the time to excoriate the Supreme Court for its terrible decision – http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/editorials/20141020-editorial-in-voter-id-ruling-justices-side-with-more-obstacles-at-the-polls.ece

Michael Waldman at Politico explains how the Supreme Court has made a mess out of our elections – http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/10/supreme-court-voting-rights-112026.html#.VEbSuhZ0akI

Ari Berman at The Nation unsparingly points out that the Supreme Court has eviscerated the Voting Rights Act – http://www.thenation.com/blog/183561/supreme-court-eviscerates-voting-rights-act-texas-voter-id-decision

Mr Berman goes on to describe how across the country, the Republican Party is manipulating voting laws to its advantage – http://www.thenation.com/article/182233/gop-winning-war-voting#

Bob Bauer at More Soft Money Hard Money points out the errors in judicial judgment that opened the floodgates on state voter id laws – http://www.moresoftmoneyhardlaw.com/2014/10/crawford-politics-voter-id/

The Wall Street Journal notes the longer-term legal questions that must now be resolved – http://online.wsj.com/articles/voter-id-actions-push-fight-past-november-1413760050

If you don’t have time to read all these pieces, let me summarize the general consensus emerging across the country – in allowing Texas to conduct an illegal election, the U.S. Supreme Court did something monumentally wrong, further tarnishing its already discredited reputation, and eroding what remains of the public’s trust in the rule of law.

As I mentioned in my critique before the Court ruled to uphold the 5th Circuit’s stay of the trial court’s injunction, the Supreme Court has laid out a banquet at which every losing candidate can feast, thanks to the synergistic effects of the trial court decision and the state laws allowing for election contests (in particular, I would direct your attention to Title 14 of the Texas Election Code, and especially to chapters 221, 231, 232, 241, and 242 of that title). The contests of the statewide executive offices and the state and federal legislative seats will be a little trickier, because of the role played by the Texas Legislature as the tribunal before which such complaints are filed.

But for local races, the contests just need to be filed in state district court. That’s not to trivialize the procedural details, which require familiarity with the local rules of court, the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, and the unusual modifications to discovery schedules, pleadings, and hearing schedules that are peculiar to election contests. But for any litigators, the single most daunting element of an election contest (namely, collecting evidence showing that an irregularity in the conduct of the election had a material effect on the outcome of that election) just got so, so much easier.

What’s good news for losing candidates is bad news for the winners, which could make for some strange bedfellows among civil rights advocates and affected candidates who are upset with the natural consequences of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

What’s The Administrative Cost of Voter I.D. in Texas?

[Post corrected to reflect that DPS didn’t get funding through a contingent rider in 2011 for improvements in drivers’ license services].

Yesterday, I got an interesting email from a reader asking a slight variation on a question I’ve looked at before. Previously, I’ve examined how expensive it is to acquire an election I.D. for an individual voter, but this reader asked, “Would you have any idea how much it will cost the State of Texas to issue the “free” ID cards and where that money is coming from?  Is DPS covering the cost and if not, which agency will cover it?”

After I took a stab at answering the question, the reader asked in passing if I had ever blogged about the issue, and I thought, “no, but why not?”

First, the question is an excellent one, and not easily answered based on the limited budget information provided by the State of Texas. The most accurate answer would be for me to say, “I don’t know” and leave it at that, but there are some clues that allow us to guess what Texas taxpayers spend to implement the provisions of the 2011 Texas picture I.D. law.

Digging through the DPS budget is a bit numbing, so let me summarize what I found, before you have to go read through my long post.

It looks like the cost of implementing the issuance of “free” election identification certificates might have been included in a 2011 contingent appropriations rider for improvements in DPS computer systems, database management, and driver license systems, and that the cost was part of a larger $64 million package. My guess is that voter i.d. didn’t account for the whole $64 million (although that would certainly be eye-opening).


What complicates things is that the contingent rider never went into effect – the associated public safety bill (S.B. 9, 2011 Tex. Leg., R.S.) never passed, and the money that DPS might have hoped for didn’t materialize, at least not in that one-time rider.


My guess is that the portion of the cost to the taxpayers attributable to the free I.D. program in Texas is somewhere in the neighborhood of $14-20 million, based on cost estimates from other states that adopted picture i.d. requirements and that are a little less shy about discussing their budgets.

(Although I’m not consistent about this myself, I think it’s more accurate to call the Texas law a “picture I.D. law” than a “voter I.D. law.” Texas already had voter I.D. law for over a hundred years, and it worked perfectly well for that entire time, it just didn’t involve a restrictive list of a few select types of picture I.D. in order to qualify to cast a ballot).


Anyway, proponents of new, punitive picture I.D. laws tend to be quite shy about discussing the price tag associated with providing free I.D.s – that’s been the pattern not just in Texas, but also in other states such as Pennsylvania, Missouri, Georgia, and elsewhere).


But this budgetary reticence is quite pronounced in Texas, and might be worse here than in other jurisdictions, in part because the Texas Legislature has proven to be very allergic to the idea of spending any state money whatsoever on social programs or services.

In 2009, the proponents of an earlier version of the strict photo-ID requirements for voting were unsuccessful in getting that law passed (H.B. 125, 81st Leg. R.S. (2009)). The reason for that difficulty was that the Lieutenant Governor (David Dewhurst) feared the legal and political consequences that would result from a passage of the law. But the specific mechanism by which the law was killed was with the addition of a fiscal note.


The Texas Legislature is famously hostile to the creation of any program, benefit, or service that costs money to implement. Therefore, a quick and easy way to derail legislation is to have the Texas Comptroller or some other state agency attach a fiscal note estimating the cost of implementation of the law.

Like the 2011 bill that ultimately passed and became law (S.B. 14, 82nd Leg., R.S. (2011)), the proposed 2009 law required the Texas Department of Public Safety to issue photo i.d at no cost upon request from voters who qualified for them. DPS (allegedly bowing to political pressure from the Office of the Governor) declared that any expenses associated with the issuance of I.D.s could be absorbed seamlessly into the existing agency funds.
The Secretary of State’s office, meanwhile, indicated that statewide voter education relating to the 2009 law would require a one-time expenditure of $2 million. Although this is a minuscule amount in comparison to the total state budget, it was more than enough of a fiscal note to torpedo the bill.
In 2011, the bill’s supporters were better organized, and applied political pressure more effectively to avoid the pitfalls that had doomed the 2009 bill – the new law was declared to be completely cost-neutral to the state. In other words, DPS and the Secretary of State both declared that the adoption of more restrictive photo I.D.s would have absolutely no impact on the state budget.
Needless to say, most people thought that the lack of a fiscal note was crazy. How could an entirely new photo I.D. program be launched and implemented statewide at zero expense? Nevertheless, the photo I.D. program officially costs nothing to the State. (And to be fair, this pathological need for public reassurance that programs which will obviously cost money must be enacted at no-cost is a not-uncommon event in Texas lawmaking, and is certainly not peculiar just to election bills. It’s part of a larger endemic structural problem with the state budget process, and with our state’s simultaneously hilarious and tragic inability to make use of deficit financing in any sort of mature or intelligent way).
No separate line-item accounting has been done for free I.D.s, and DPS has issued so few of the I.D.s that the variable costs are probably quite low. But that still leaves the fixed costs that are more-or-less unaffected by the level of demand for the free I.D.s (equipment and computer programming costs, employee training, advertising, etc.)
To get some sense of costs, I looked at the reported estimates for the fixed costs associated with implementation of changes in voter I.D. requirements in other states.
State officials estimated that the costs for implementation of picture I.D. laws were over $16 million for Missouri and around $11 million for Pennsylvania, but there was considerable uncertainty about these numbers. As with Texas, both of the other states tended to low-ball the estimated costs in response to legislative inquiries, (for instance, proponents of the law in Pennsylvania estimated a budget cost of just $1 million, paid for with spare Federal grant money for implementation of the Help America Vote Act of 2002).
There are a lot of variables here that make it hard to treat costs in other states as being directly comparable to the costs in Texas. In Texas, administrative costs associated with statewide laws are often shifted “off the books” to county budgets and paid for with county property tax money. Also, it’s fair to point out that in terms of population, Texas is significantly larger than either Missouri or Pennsylvania, and that the Texas picture I.D. law was not directly comparable to the generally more forgiving laws adopted in other states.
My guess is that $16 million is probably at least in the same order of magnitude as the costs experienced by the state (i.e. that the taxpayer’s burden of voter I.D. in Texas is somewhere in the tens of millions of dollars, with a wide margin of uncertainty due to the lack of any public audit). Some of the variables likely make the program cheaper in Texas (i.e., the fact that so few people who lack adequate I.D. have bothered to jump through the hoops to get picture I.D.s for voting in Texas), and some variables make the Texas program more expensive (the physical size of the state, the number of DPS offices, the significantly larger population, and the concomitant increase in fixed labor and equipment costs).
The DPS budget request for 2014-2015 is online (warning – the .pdf is 1,038 pages long), and the parts that apply to this question are found in Section 3.A.71 (rolled into driver license services, which is the division of DPS that issues the free election I.D.s).
As a general overview, the actual expenses of the division (before implementation of the voter I.D. law, which began in very late FY2012) for FY2011 (fiscal year 2011, from Sept. 1, 2010 to Aug. 30, 2011) had been just shy of $19 million, the estimated expenses for FY2012 were just shy of $22 million, and the budget for 2013 was $25.6 million. Despite the one-year $3.6 million bump in the budget compared to the previous biennial funding request (which had been made when the 2011 picture I.D. law was still just a twinkle in Rep. Debbie Riddle’s eye), the 2014-2015 requests were for a modest increase (a smidge less than $23 million for 2014, and $22 million for 2015).
But … this does not tell the whole story. Article IX, Section 18.09 of the 2011 general appropriations act (H.B. 1 (2011)  included a contingent rider for around $64 million (broken into $27.7 million in estimated FY2012 expenses, and $36.3 million in the FY2013 budget) to cover “improvements in the driver license system” for 2012-2013. The related rider in Article IX, Section 18.07 of the same budget included provisions for an increase of 112 FTE (full-time equivalent) staff positions in FY2012 and 361 FTE positions budgeted for FY2013 to implement improvements of the driver license system.
But DPS would only get the money if another bill (describing various improvements in DPS drivers’ license services) passed. The other bill (S.B. 9, 82nd Leg. R.S. (2011)) didn’t pass, and so the contingent rider failed. But was that rider at least possibly part of the funding for voter I.D.?
Digging further into the budget, one finds that the Drivers’ License Division also budgeted about $7 for capital improvements in FY2013, having estimated that it would spend roughly that amount in FY2012.
But there’s only so much that one can read into all this – DPS had a number of budget concerns associated with the driver license system – most of these concerns had nothing to do with the issuance of free election I.D.s. For one thing, DPS was faced with a number of complaints regarding poor customer service for such things as driving tests, motorcycle safety, online license renewal, and records management, and years of budget cuts had drastically reduced staffing in the Drivers’ License Division.
Further complicating matters is that DPS separated out some of its requests for improvements in communications and IT infrastructure (directly impacting issues like identification records and inter-agency database operations with the Voter Registration section of the Secretary of State) into line items for capital improvements to its central headquarters division. As a result, it’s likely that pointing to any one line item and declaring “that’s how much the free I.D.s cost” is risky, since the actual expenditures for that system could be subsumed under multiple funding sources relating to DPS field office improvements, computer systems, field office staff, customer service improvements, and so on.
In other words, the DPS budget probably folds the cost of free I.D. into at least two or more funding sources, and that program probably shares resources with at least two other strategic funding objectives (namely, general improvements to the driver license system, and general improvements to DPS computer systems and database management).
On March 31st of this year, the plaintiffs in Veasey v. Perry asked how much the election identification certificate program cost – as part of a discovery request ahead of the voter I.D. trial. (See item 6 on page 8 of the discovery request). As far as I can tell, the State of Texas never answered this question (presumably arguing that no record exists of the cost of the program) – if the answer is in the court records, I’d appreciate a cite.
My guess is that the fixed “start-up” cost of election identification certificates in Texas was expected to be some fraction of the $36 million appropriations rider for FY2013 for “improvements to the driver license system.” When that source became unavailable, I suspect there may have been some “robbing Peter to pay Paul” shifting of funds from capital improvements and appropriations for database and inter-agency communication to cover the expense.

Aside from its historical allergic reaction to spending money, there’s probably another reason why Texas is so coy about the start-up costs. Given the miniscule number of people who have applied for election identification certificates, the per-unit cost is huge. If you were at DPS, would you want to admit that you had spent millions in order to get laminated cards made for half a dozen people?

Some Encouraging Thoughts

In the midst of excoriating both the 5th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court for their dreadful decisions, I am encouraged by several bits of news.

1. Charles Kuffner Reports A Huge Upswing In Voter Registration Numbers

As some columnists and academics have speculated, more restrictive voter I.D. laws may have contributed to a surge in voter registrations. Among other things, fear (of the loss of voting rights) and anger (towards the officials and institutions responsible for these restrictions) may have energized a kind of immune-system response by the body politic – Mr. Kuffner reports a tweet by the Texas Secretary of State that voter registrations in Texas have topped 14 million, a substantial and relatively recent increase following a decade of more-or-less stagnant growth (Texas voter registration has bobbled around 12 million since 2004, with predictable surges before presidential elections, and gradual declines immediately afterwards).

This is very good news, and (as Mr. Kuffner notes, is a testament to the hard work being done by volunteers across the state in this election cycle).

2. Even An Apologist For Voter Suppression Thinks that Texas Photo I.D. Requirements Are Doomed

I don’t have much use for J. Christian Adams or his generally awful pandering to the extreme right-wing. He’s like my evil twin (my much higher-profile evil twin) – like me, he’s an election law attorney, and like me, he lost a government job for political reasons (in his case, the Department of Justice). Also like me, he reacted to his termination by starting a blog.

As a representative of the Mirror Mirror Universe, Mr. Adams (who confusingly lacks the goatee that is more-or-less mandatory for male residents of the evil alternate reality) does a fair job of collecting and republishing various defamatory rants and screeds (Ebola-Infected Taliban Prayer Rugs Found In Preschool! North Korean Troops Massing In The Florida Panhandle! Biden Caught Drinking Blood In Sewer Lair!) He shares Greg Abbott’s view that the trial court decision in Veasey v. Perry is a deplorable accommodation of the peasant class, and a terrible miscarriage of justice that must be remedied at once, before the lower caste rabble get swept up in revolutionary zeal.

But Mr. Adams is still a lawyer, and his professional training obligates him to inform his audience that while the decision is an outrageous attack on right-wing efforts to purify, sanctify and cleanse the democratic process of any lingering secular humanism, that there are no valid legal grounds for an appeal by the defendants, and no likelihood of the decision being overturned by an appellate court.

On this point, Mr. Adams and I are in complete agreement.

3. A New Group of Scrappy Underdogs Are Emerging In Local Races

Another thing that Mr. Kuffner has pointed out is that there are new entrants to local politics who are challenging safe Republican seats in heavily conservative areas.

This suggests a new sociopolitical benchmark, the Quixote Index, which would be an abstracted measure of persistence by liberal candidates running in long-shot local elections.

Persistence pays off – candidates with staying power who are not discouraged by long odds (1) drain resources from their opponents, (2) place themselves to take advantage of unexpected vulnerabilities, (3) gain organizational experience, (4) increase brand visibility and name recognition, and (5) benefit from tectonic shifts in the political landscape.

“Bottom-up” strategies for gaining political power are nothing new, and I don’t generally think of myself as a proponent of “bottom-up” coalition-building to the exclusion of other strategies – I’m more of a “whatever works” supporter – actual shifts in political momentum come from both the top and the bottom of the ballot, and the only reason why any distinction is made in the first place is because even though the underdogs should spend their money everywhere, they are constrained by their underdog status and lack of resources to pick their battles.

What I suspect is that as momentum and pressure builds towards a more profound political realignment, more and more long-shot candidates for local offices leave off worrying or caring about the supposed impregnable strength of their opponents, the trite, timid, reactive advice of their advisers and consultants, and all the other obstacles in their path.

In part, candidates run in impossible races because they are gambling that the tide is turning in ways too subtle to be seen or understood by the smart money (And by the way, the smart money is often stupid about paradigm shifts). In part, the mere act of running is both the cause of and the reaction to that turning of the tide of public thought.

Ross Ramsey wrote a piece recently for the Texas Tribune, interviewing conservative political consultant Wayne Thornburn about the 2014 election, and discussing “Red State: An Insider’s Story of How the GOP Came To Dominate Texas Politics.

Mr. Thornburn is understandably dismissive of Democratic Party candidates’ chances, given his background and expectations. Nevertheless, he does see a parallel between the fall of the once-monolithic segregationist Texas Democratic Party and the waning prospects of the current Texas Republican Party.

In Mr. Thornburn’s view, the 1950s-era Texas Republican Party was organizationally stronger and better situated to take advantage of openings than the Democratic Party is now.

I disagree with his historical assessment – Texas Democrats have a number of organizational strengths that the “honorable opposition” lacked in the 1950s, including (1) a geographic power base with unassailable safe districts in South Texas and the major cities, (2) mature fundraising and campaign networks, and (3) a restive population of still-living and relatively young current and former officeholders who have personal experience in holding elective office in state government. In comparison, Texas Republicans of the 1950s had (1) no geographic power base, (2) no campaign networks or mentoring, and very little in-state fundraising, and (3) no living cadre of current or former officeholders.

While I might disagree with Mr. Thornburn’s (understandably partisan) dismissal of Democratic Party chances, I do note that Mr. Thornburn, a staunch Republican political veteran, nevertheless believes that the state Republicans are on the losing side over the long term (“six to eight years”) if the Texas Democrats make a sustained effort.

The Texas GOP is divided, bickering, and ideologically adrift. As it turns farther and farther to the right, it loses moderate votes. Eventually, those lost votes will translate into lost elections. I think it’ll happen in 2014, Mr. Thornburn thinks it’ll happen in 2020 or 2022, but we agree that it’ll happen.

Out of curiosity, I took a look at one of the earliest successful congressional elections of a Texas Republican after Reconstruction – that of Representative Bruce Alger, who represented the Dallas area from 1955-1964. Representative Alger was the sole Republican in the Texas Congressional delegation until 1963.

What’s interesting is that Representative Alger’s 1954 election presaged the tactics that would eventually lead the Texas Republicans to triumph. Alger was not expected to win in 1954, but defeated the former City of Dallas mayor Wallace Savage by about 6%. Mayor Savage’s political weakness among Southern Democrats was that he had pushed generally for additional housing for blacks and fair treatment of black workers in Dallas, and he had desegregated the city ambulance service.

Bruce Alger was unusual among pre-Civil Rights-era Republicans in that he broke with his party on segregation (which at the time the Republicans were still against) and civil rights issues (which the national Republican Party still championed), was vehemently opposed to any civil rights legislation, and was solidly in the bosom of the (traditionally Democratic Party) white Dallas segregationist elite.

His success and personal mentoring helped John Tower win LBJ’s Senate seat in 1961, thereby planting the seeds of the Southern Strategy (i.e., the Republican Party’s strategy of opposing the Civil Rights movement and appealing to Southern segregationists), and he only fell from grace after JFK’s assassination as the result of matters unrelated to race, when his obstructionism on regulatory matters, his inability to negotiate, and his unrepentant virulent hatred of JFK began to look insensitive and unseemly. In short, he was the proto-Ted Cruz.

Today, all the factors that had worked for Bruce Alger and made the Southern Strategy successful work against the Republican Party in Texas.

A commitment to the ideal of racial equality is now much more solidly incorporated into our national culture than it was in the 1950s, and segregationist leanings are much less useful politically than they once were. (Racism remains a powerful motivating factor among a core group of voters, but must be communicated elliptically and with muted rhetoric, except in private).

Additionally (and thanks to the same Civil Rights movement that so effectively changed the tenor of cultural discussions of race), minority voters have more leverage in elections today than in the 1950s, and can therefore exert at least a tenuous influence on election outcomes.

Finally, by yoking its party platform to the concerns of radicalized poor rural whites, the Republican Party has had to adopt unpopular militant policies regarding abortion, gay marriage, resource management, education, housing, religion, government, health care, immigration, the environment, and so on. The party is caught on the horns of a dilemma.

If the Republican Party was able to successfully embrace segregation and pull a complete 180-degree reversal on civil rights within the space of a decade in the 50s and 60s, it certainly has the organizational capacity to change course again, just as violently, and outdo the Democratic Party on social justice issues.

Because of the overall homogeneity of American political discourse (which is always aimed at the mainstream centrist voter), and because the national Democratic Party is currently quite conservative, there’s plenty of room for a completely unrecognizable leftist Republican Party (maybe it would look like some hybrid of Netherlands-style social welfare and extreme libertarianism). But the problem is that such a radical alteration would be the end of the Party – it would lose its shrinking voter base completely, and would not be able to court a leftist voter base fast enough to make up for the losses.

The Texas Republican Party is sitting on an ice floe that is starting to melt and crack. The party membership is angry, cold, and uncomfortable, and (maybe) regrets having picked this particular ice floe back in the day, but sitting on the ice is preferable to the inevitable dunking in the freezing water. They can’t run, and they can’t stand still, and so they just have to close their eyes. Political maneuvers like redistricting, picture I.D., limitations on voter registration, and so on, are just the involuntary anticipatory muscle-clenches that come immediately before the dunking.

Tomorrow (October 20), early voting starts. Go vote!