Home » Posts tagged 'voting rights impaired for elderly and indigent'

Tag Archives: voting rights impaired for elderly and indigent

Early Voting in the November 2013 Texas Constitutional Amendment Election: Two Views

In the election news cycle yesterday and today, one of the stories has been about how smoothly picture I.D. voting has been going in the first statewide election since the law went into effect.

On the one hand, state and county election officials report that there have been almost no problems at all. Married and divorced women have not been disproportionately turned away at the polls due to identification issues resulting from name changes, and there are no reports of widespread provisional voting or unprepared voters. The media take on this is that the Texas Democratic Party has lost traction and credibility on the issue of picture I.D. voting, arguably because the party oversold the potential that voters would be turned away at the polling places.

The State of Texas and the U.S. Department of Justice might both cite improvements in the adminstration of picture I.D. requirements in Texas for this election – among other things, the State broadly expanded the number of entities authorized to issue photo i.d.s, and the Department of Justice might regard these improvements as attempts by the State to mitigate liabilities for civil rights violations in direct response to DOJ’s civil rights lawsuit over picture I.D.

A number of commentators have been careful to point out that the policy questions about the adoption of picture I.D. requirements for voting are clouded by political rhetoric from both sides of the political spectrum. On the left, there is probably a tendency to overstate the suppressive effect of picture I.D. laws in general. On the right, meanwhile, buzzwords like “security and election integrity” are chosen to justify picture i.d. laws on the basis of purely imaginary waves of election fraud.

Anecdote is poor evidence of systemic problems with elections, and it is unwise to rely on either individual reports of voter problems (“I had to vote provisionally because my name on my picture I.D. doesn’t exactly match my name, therefore picture I.D. suppresses voting.”) or the evident lack of such reports (“County voter registrars report that after two days of early voting, not a single person has called to complain or been turned away from voting due to an i.d. issue.”)

Why is it so easy to fall into the habit of false generalization on this issue? Here are some reasons that come to mind, off the top of my head.

  1. Selection bias – The population of voters is self-selected, and is not directly comparable to the population of all people who could vote, or of all people who (from a social utility perspective) should vote or ought to vote. This selection bias is more pronounced in an election as sleepy and low profile as the November 2013 state constitutional amendment election in Texas – the tiny number of people who actually manage to turn out and vote in an “off-season” election like this one are arguably a committed and motivated group when compared to the larger population of all people eligible to register to vote.
  2. Sampling bias – Sampling just the complainers is probably not the best way to collect data on election problems. One of the things that struck me as interesting about working in the Elections Division at the Texas Secretary of State’s Office wasn’t how many phone calls we would get (the number ranging anywhere from around a hundred on a slow day to a couple thousand on an election day), but how few calls we got. Neither the roughly 12 million registered Texas voters, nor the roughly 1 million eligible non-registered people of voting age make a habit of calling with election questions or complaints, but we can’t infer that the population is happy just because the per capita number of complaints is low.
  3. Modeling bias – The media, election officials, and political party strategists all envision “voting problems” as meaning something, but they don’t necessarily share the same mental impression of what that something is. As widely reported, Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis had to sign a “same name” affidavit (provided as part of the new name-comparison law) because her name changed as a result of marriage. This could either be reported as a problem (“Requiring a voter to sign an affidavit creates an unacceptable risk of bureaucratic error in the handling of many women’s votes, the danger of interference with those votes, and an institutional discouragement of voting by women.”) or as a non-problem (“Aside from having to complete an affidavit (comparable procedurally with the old “no voter certificate” affidavit), Senator Davis successfully cast a ballot that will be tabulated with all the other valid ballots in this election. Therefore, the name comparison system is working perfectly, Senator Davis’s ballot will be counted, and this so-called problem isn’t a problem.”)

It turns out that actual social science research costs actual money and time and intellectual creativity. When institutions such as the Brennan Center for Justice or the Pew Charitable Trust are trying to figure out if changes in voting procedures are harmful or helpful, they do things like conduct carefully designed polls, build economic and policy models, conduct deep interviews of voters, non-voters, discouraged voters, almost-voters, and election workers, conduct mock elections and user forums, focus groups and behavioral studies, enlist sociologists and statisticians, and attempt valiantly to identify and counter all sources of conscious and unconscious bias that might skew the results.

Good journalists can do the same sort of deep digging, but sadly it happens less and less.

I’m no fan of picture I.D., partly because I think its a product of ignorance, graft, and simple, brutish, mean-spirited bullying. But I also hesitate to say that the ills of photo i.d. will manifest themselves in big, camera-friendly riots and mayhem at the polls. In other words, the suppressive effects of photo i.d. requirements are all the more worrisome because those effects are likely to be invisible – isn’t it at least theoretically possible that some of the reason for the low turnout might well be attributable to the new voting procedures?

[UPDATE: The first version of this entry erroneously reported that Senator Davis voted provisionally. She did not – she completed an affidavit regarding her name change, and otherwise voted normally].

The True Cost of Free Voter I.D. in Texas

Per Section 521A.001 of the Texas Transportation Code, the Department of Public Safety will provide voter I.D. cards without charge upon application. However, these voter I.D. cards (which cannot be used to satisfy other statutory demands for identification) may only be issued at select DPS offices, and only to individuals who present sufficient legal documentation of their citizenship and identity.

Herein lies the rub. As “free” I.D. is presumably intended to accommodate the indigent, we may assume that the greater demand for these I.D. cards would be from those potential voters who don’t have much in the way of resources.

So how much would it cost to get a free Texas voter I.D.?

For the sake of argument, assume that the potential voter is an indigent patient of the Rusk State Hospital in Rusk, Texas. Such a voter is not representative of the Texas population, but shares some qualities with a group of Texas citizens who are particularly unlikely to participate in elections (namely, the institutionalized, the disabled, the indigent, and the elderly).

First, one must apply for a voter I.D. in person at a designated DPS office. As critics of the Texas voter I.D. law have pointed out, the number of available offices has declined, making the task of getting an I.D. more formidable (especially for people in rural areas). There is no drivers’ license office in Rusk, Texas – the closest office is on 506 East Pine Street in Jacksonville, Texas. But this isn’t too bad – the DPS office is only about 15 miles away from the hospital. Although there’s no public transportation to speak of, an ambulatory person without a car could walk from Rusk to Jacksonville in about four hours, by keeping to the shoulder of U.S. 69 going northwest from downtown Rusk (and keeping in mind that customers will be served in the order they arrive, and that the DPS office is open from 8:30 to 5:00 Monday through Friday).

Although Rusk State Hospital is a psychiatric hospital that is stereotyped as a prison hospital, it is also the primary mental health care provider in East Texas, and serves both captive inmates, involuntarily committed civilians, and the general population. Of course, confined patients could simply vote by mail from the hospital and avoid the bother of I.D. voting altogether, but it isn’t inconceivable that a transient patient might need to acquire a voter I.D. for in-person voting, despite being treated at the hospital.

In any case, our example will serve to identify the issues faced by any residents of Rusk who need a picture I.D. to vote, but who lack a driver’s license.

After getting to the DPS office and filling out an application for a voter I.D. certificate, one must provide documentation of U.S. citizenship using one of the following documents:

  • U.S. passport book or card
  • Birth certificate issued by a U.S. state, U.S. territory or District of Columbia
  • For U.S. citizens born abroad—Certificate of Report of Birth (DS-1350 or FS-545) or Consular Report of Birth (FS-240) issued by the U.S. Department of State
  • U.S. Certificate of Citizenship or Certificate of Naturalization (N-560, N-561, N-645, N-550, N-55G, N-570 or N-578)
  • U.S. Department of Justice Immigration and Naturalization Service U.S. Citizen ID Card (Form I-197 or I-179)

Third, one must provide documentation of identity. Those with U.S. passports are well-set, given that the passport is a primary document proving both citizenship and identity. However, the other items in the above list are insufficient proof of identity, and must be paired with at least two of the following items:

  • Social security card
  • Form W-2 or 1099
  • Driver license or ID card issued by another U.S. state, U.S. territory, the District of Columbia or Canadian province (unexpired or expired less than two years)*
  • Texas driver license or ID card that has not been expired more than two years
  • Temporary receipt for a Texas driver license or ID card
  • School records* (e.g., report cards, photo ID cards)
  • Military records (e.g., Form DD-214)
  • Unexpired U.S. military dependent identification card
  • Original or certified copy of marriage license or divorce decree (if the document is not in English, a certified translation must accompany it)
  • Voter registration card*
  • Pilot license*
  • Concealed handgun license*
  • Professional license issued by a Texas state agency
  • ID card issued by a government agency*
  • Consular document issued by a state or national government
  • Texas Inmate ID card or similar form of ID issued by Texas Department of Criminal Justice
  • Texas Department of Criminal Justice parole or mandatory release certificate
  • Federal inmate identification card
  • Federal parole or release certificate
  • Medicare or Medicaid card
  • Selective Service card
  • Immunization records*
  • Tribal membership card from federally-recognized tribe
  • Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood
  • Unexpired foreign passport
  • Unexpired insurance policy valid for the past two years (e.g., auto, home or life insurance)
  • Current Texas vehicle registration or title
  • Current Texas boat registration or title
  • Veteran’s Identification Card from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Hospital-issued birth record*
  • NUMIDENT record from the Social Security Administration
  • “NUMI-lite” letter from the Social Security Administration

The asterisked items must have been issued by some government-owned authority.

Some of the secondary documents that would prove identity are less likely to be possessed by an indigent person, given that these documents are dependent on ownership of personalty or realty. Therefore, I’ve drawn a line through those documents. Other items would more likely be in the possession of a non-U.S. citizen, and can be excluded as well. I won’t presume whether or not the voter has some criminal record or military service, and forms of identification available to former inmates or veterans could exist.

The two supporting documents must come from two different agencies; thus, one could not use both a NUMIDENT record and a NUMI-lite letter from the Social Security Administration.

Anyway, how much might it cost to get at least enough documents to get a free voter I.D. card?

U.S. Passport and Card – The passport is worth more than gold, as evidenced by the $165 ($140 application fee plus $25 execution fee) price tag. Expedited service is another $60, and these charges do not include the cost of the photo. Some savings can be realized by just applying for a passport card (instead of a passport book) which is just $55. Keep in mind that the passport application process will also require certain documents to prove citizenship and identity, and these may require an additional charge. If the applicant has previously had an expired passport, a $150 search fee can be paid to confirm that prior evidence of citizenship.

Certified birth certificate – If from a U.S. jurisdiction, it appears that the cost ranges from around $12 to $20, although there is no uniform rate; the fees are set by the jurisdiction issuing the certificate. Consular reports of live birth issued by U.S. embassies currently cost $50, which is the uniform fee for any vital record from the U.S. Consular Service.

A replacement certificate of naturalization costs $345, per information provided by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (see form N-565).

U.S. Citizen I.D. card – The so-called Form I-197 I.D. card is no longer issued, so while it is still useable as proof of citizenship, there is no mechanism for gaining or replacing such a document.

Assume for the sake of the example that a potential voter does not have access to a form “proving” citizenship. If that is the case, the applicant will be out an additional amount of money, regardless of the availability of other secondary documents proving identity. If the applicant is lucky, he or she was born in circumstances that led to the creation of a birth certificate in some U.S. jurisdiction, in which case the free voter I.D. will cost around $10 to $20, plus the opportunity cost associated with the time and effort required to request and receive that document.

If the voter is unlucky (as is the case for anyone whose vital records were destroyed in a fire, as in the case of my grandmother, or in many circumstances of midwife-assisted birth in Texas or California, where filing of vital records tended to be lax), then the cost will soar to somewhere between $55 and $165 or more for a passport. If the person was naturalized but lacks documentary proof, the cost is going to be around $345. For more intractable documentation problems, the costs will be much higher, and may require court proceedings to settle questions of identity and citizenship.

How many Texans are disenfranchised by picture I.D. requirements? The best guess (see the 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, “Citizens Without Proof”, and related discussions of that study.) is around 11% of the voting-age population. The percentage of poor adults without sufficient documentation is likely to be higher, as is likely also the case with lower income voters and voting age members of racial and language minorities.

Given that picture I.D. requirements impose a financial burden on voters, those requirements deserve the same opprobrium as is aimed at poll taxes and literacy tests; such burdens effectively place a price tag on citizenship. But there are choices that a legislature can make to transform a bad voter I.D. law into a somewhat less bad law. One solution is to include a “no-fault” affidavit of inability to pay costs that completely substitutes for any photo i.d. requirement.

Such a measure is still objectionable on the grounds that it stigmatizes the indigent. But at least it would allow those individuals a chance to vote. We can already see what happens to the rights of the most needy when they lack any representation at all.