With Election Day nearing, it’s unfortunate to see more media outlets across the country parroting bogus arguments against common-sense voter ID laws. A recent news brief on Noticiero Telemundo, for example, breathlessly announced that “some 600,000 Hispanics and African-Americans in Texas could lose their vote in the November elections because of a law that requires one of seven types of photo identification in order to be allowed to vote.”
As presented, the story included - and thus advanced - the position of only one side of a hotly contested legal conflict. By so doing, Telemundo – along with other media outlets with similar story lines – seriously failed to present an accurate account of the real situation on the ground.
Here’s the back story: in 2011, Texas passed a voter ID law that requires voters to present a photo ID before voting at polling stations. Similar measures are in place in 15 states and Puerto Rico. Despite having already been upheld by the United States Supreme Court in 2008, these measures continue to be regularly challenged.
In this case, opponents of the Texas law filed a court case to block the law, arguing, as Telemundo reported, that blacks and Hispanics often don’t have proper IDs, and that the law is racist and will block their votes. They claim that 600,000 Texas voters don’t have proper ID. This claim was uncritically accepted by a lower court, but is on appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court has subsequently decided to let the law stand while it is on appeal.
Fortunately for Texans, the disenfranchisement claims by the case’s plaintiffs just don’t add up. Comparing the November 2013 Texas election that used the law to the 2011 election – also a November off-year election – it is clear that requiring voter ID didn’t suppress the vote. 2013 actually saw significant increases in voter turnout, including in places like Hidalgo County, which is 90% Hispanic and saw their voter turnout quadruple. The state has held three statewide elections, five special elections, and numerous other local elections with the requirements in place, and has had no reports of disenfranchisements, partly because the state makes free photo IDs available for voters who need them.
Complaints that 600,000 voters don't have ID simply don’t hold water. Over a third of those claimed to lack proper ID in Texas are over 65 or disabled and thus not subject to the law in the first place. And the number wasn’t first checked to eliminate non-citizens, those who have moved out of the state, or even voters who have died.
And while playing the race card makes for catchy headlines, it isn’t supported by evidence. For example, a phone survey of voters on the Texas plaintiffs' “no ID” list found that 90% of both black and white voters on the list actually did have IDs. And Hispanic voters were even more likely to have proper ID than whites: 92% had the ID they needed to vote. It’s no wonder that nearly three-quarters of Hispanics favor voter-ID laws.
Luckily, contrary to what Telemundo and others have reported , nearly all registered Texas voters – including those in minority communities – already have the ID they will need on November 4. The rest should bring proof of citizenship and identity to their local driver’s license office and they can get a free state-issued ID. Rather than blocking sensible proposals to safeguard election integrity, those who are genuinely concerned about voter participation should concentrate on educating qualified electors about how to properly and easily obtain the IDs that will allow them to cast their vote.