Concerns raised about required ID for voting

By Enedelia J. Obregón

Senior Correspondent

The Diocese of Austin is asking for parishes to help get the word out on the new Texas photo ID requirements for voting.

Barbara Budde, director of the diocesan Office of Social Concerns, met with leaders of the parish social ministries to share information and make sure that all voters have the required identification.

"We are concerned that while the ID is free, the ability of people who don’t have a driver’s license to take time off from work, take a bus and wait at the Department of Public Safety could be burdensome to some voters," Budde said.

October 7 is the deadline to register to vote and people wanting to vote in the Nov. 5 election must have a photo ID to vote.

Johnnie Dorsey, is the director of the diocesan Office of Black Catholics and a parishioner at Holy Cross Parish in Austin, is concerned that some people may have difficulty obtaining photo IDs.

"While the ID is free, they may not have the resources to get the ID," he said. "People such as students and the elderly are on a tight budget or may not have transportation."

Dorsey said his parish is considering ways to help the poor and elderly get the required documentation, including paying for documents. A certified copy of a Texas birth certificate costs at least $22.

The ministries are also being asked to document any cases of people who voted in the past that were unable to vote under the new voter ID laws and are having their vote suppressed.

There are seven forms of photo ID that are acceptable for voting: Texas Department of Public Safety Driver’s License, Texas personal ID card issued by DPS, a concealed handgun license issued by DPS, a U.S. military photo ID, a U.S. citizenship certificate with photo, and a U.S. passport. With the exception of the citizenship certificate, all must be current or expired within 60 days.

Voting rights groups are also concerned that poor people in rural counties may not have convenient access to a DPS office to get their free IDs. Several groups have noted that 70 out of the 254 Texas counties do not have a DPS office. In the Diocese of Austin, which encompasses 25 Central Texas counties, a quick check found no DPS offices in San Saba, Blanco, Robertson, Falls and Caldwell counties. In addition, the offices in several counties were only open one or two days a week.

All of the acceptable forms of IDs cost money, except for the DPS ID, Budde noted. And getting the documents to get a free ID can also cost money.

"There are some elderly who have no birth certificate because of the nature of their birth," she said. Many were born at home in rural areas and their births were not documented. Some elderly women never learned to drive so they have no driver’s license.

Because ethnic minorities such as African Americans and Hispanics have a history of voter suppression, anything that sets up a barrier to voting is of concern, Dorsey said.

"Voting is precious to us," Dorsey said. "Those of us who lived in the 60s remember voter suppression. Then we got the (1965) Voting Rights Act. Now we’re beginning to see a reversal of voting rights legislation. There are certain elements who want to ensure certain people don’t get to vote."

Dorsey said many Texas legislators have cited fraud as the reason for the ID laws.

The Dallas Morning News –– citing figures from the Texas Secretary of State General Election Results in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 212 - noted that of the 66 cases of fraud pursued by the Texas Attorney General’s Office since 2004, only four might have been prevented by voter ID laws. That means only 0.0000001 percent of the votes might have been affected by a photo ID requirement.

Putting barriers before people who traditionally have been disenfranchised is a concern, she said.

"The bishops want to preserve the integrity of voting," she said. "But there has not been sufficient evidence of voter fraud to warrant the kind of ID law that was passed."

For information on the new Texas photo voter ID requirements, visit www.votetexas.gov/register-to-vote/need-id/.

For access to a Texas Department of Public Driver’s License Office, go to www.txdps.state.tx.us/administration/driver_licensing_control/rolodex/search.asp.

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