Dear Mr. Premack: I know that the November elections are months away, but I was just listening to a radio show talking about the new Texas voter ID law. They said that older voters may be rejected at the polls. I’ve been voting in my district for decades, but I am now 87 years old and I don’t have a driver’s license any more. Is there something I should be doing to be sure I have a hassle-free visit to the voting booth in November? – E.S.
The Texas legislature passed a new voter identification law in the 2011 session, intended to be effective January 1, 2012. This type of voting regulation must be approved by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to be sure the law is not infringing on a citizen’s constitutional right to vote. Of the 83-voting law changes the Legislature passed, the DOJ pre-approved 65, is reviewing 17, and rejected 2.
The Texas Voter ID law is one of the two that was rejected in March 2012 by the DOJ. It concluded that the ID law could have a large impact on the ability of minorities to cast ballots. Texas responded by filing suit in federal court to have Section 5 of the Voters Rights Act declared unconstitutional (claiming that the federal government has no power to regulate voting rights). As of last month, the lawsuit was moving slowly, and the court has expressed dismay over its perception that the Texas Attorney General’s office was dragging its feet producing necessary records. The case is set for trial in early July if all the discovery deadlines are met.
Let’s assume for a minute that Texas wins. How would the new law affect senior citizens who want to vote?
The new law will require any voter to show a photo ID from a limited approved list. The ID can be a Texas driver’s license, an “election identification certificate”, a DPS personal ID card, a US Military ID, a US citizenship certificate, a US passport or a Texas concealed handgun license.
Seniors are specifically disadvantaged (for voter ID purposes) by a Texas law called “Katie’s law” passed by the Texas legislature two years ago. Katie’s law requires anyone 79 or older to appear in person to renew a driver’s license, and to pass prescribed fitness tests related to driver safety (but not related to ability to vote). It also provides that the license of anyone age 85 or older expires on the second birthday after the date of the license application. For example, if someone gets a license renewal at age 84 then the driver must appear and be tested at age 86. Failure to appear, or failure to pass the exams, means the voter will not have a driver’s license. No license equals no voting, unless you get one of the other approved IDs.
What about the other forms of ID? It takes a few months to get a passport. The new “election identification certificate” must be obtained from the Texas Department of Public Safety, they will only issue one if the applicant has no other acceptable form of identification, and as of now they don’t have a system set up to issue them at all. The DPS personal ID card is more routine, but you must apply in person at a DPS office, fill out an application, must present proof of identity and proof of Texas residence, be fingerprinted, and pay a fee. That can be hard for an elderly individual to manage, so begin now while you have time!
The Texas Voter ID law says if you don’t have proper photo ID you will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. However, for it to be counted, within 6 days after the election you’ll have to travel to the county election office to present your photo ID. For many seniors, that sets a deadline that is too short and is a hassle that may just cause them to skip voting.
The new Texas law does have some exceptions. If you 1) have a religious objection to having your photo taken, or 2) have no ID because of a natural disaster (as declared by the President or the Governor) then you can cast a provisional ballot, and travel to the county election office within 6 days to sign an affidavit claiming the exemption. Further, if you have a disability under Social Security or a VA disability of at least 50%, and have no photo ID, you can vote by presenting your voter registration card and written proof of the disability issued by Social Security or by the VA.
Once again: be prepared! Your voter registration card will no longer be adequate to allow you to vote if the new law is approved. Get the proper documentation or get your approved photo ID. If you don’t do so, and if Texas prevails in its lawsuit, then you may be denied your right to vote in the upcoming election.
Paul Premack is a Certified Elder Law Attorney practicing estate planning for all ages and probate law in San Antonio.
Original Publication: San Antonio Express News, July 2, 2012