When Texas voters walk into a polling place, the process is clear; election workers check them in, comparing their photo IDs to the county voter rolls. It takes seconds, but it adds a level of security to our election that Texans truly value.
And Texans want the same security for their mail-in ballots; better than four out of five Texans say that voting in person and by mail should have the same voter identification requirements. Georgia Republicans are taking a beating in the media right now for enacting such a rule; that must not discourage Texas lawmakers from doing the right thing. More on that in a moment.
Voter ID for mail-in ballots is precisely what all the fuss is about surrounding Georgia’s new election laws. The legislation that House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn calls “a new Jim Crow” doesn’t really change much. (For a concise explainer on what is—and isn’t—in the Georgia law, click here.) But it does change the way it verifies mail-in ballots. Instead of using signature verification (which can be subjective), it verifies voters using their state-issued IDs.
The New York Times claims this new requirement “is virtually certain to limit access to absentee voting.” It even adds (without citing a single source) that “Stringent voter-ID laws in other states have depressed voting mostly among people of color.”
Since that’s the real claim, let’s set aside the inflammatory rhetoric and evaluate it fairly. First, are voter ID rules unconstitutional? And do they suppress votes and target minority voters?
Fortunately for us all, that’s been examined and litigated extensively.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board that voter ID laws are not overly burdensome. Justices pointed out that when the original lawsuit was filed, the plaintiffs could not produce a single person who was unable to vote because of the law. “The universally applicable requirements of Indiana’s voter-identification law are eminently reasonable,” justices wrote. “The burden of acquiring, possessing, and showing a free photo identification is simply not severe, because it does not even represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting.”
Nor are voter ID laws discriminatory; “The Indiana photo-identification law is a generally applicable, nondiscriminatory voting regulation,” the majority ruled.
So if voter ID laws are fine for in-person voting, why are they not for mail-in ballots (where there is clear opportunity for voter fraud)?
The fact is that such rules can be adjusted to ensure that no legitimate voter is refused a say, simply because the election is made more secure. In Georgia, voters who want to mail in their ballot but don’t have a state-issued photo ID can use the last four digits of their Social Security Number and their birthday, or even a copy of a utility bill or other official-ish document that shows their name and address.
That’s why we would like to see a common-sense voter ID provision added to the bills now being considered that would require all mail-in ballots to include either the voter’s driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security Number.
Why is this important? Even if Texas legislators get everything else right this session, getting this one thing wrong would be disastrous. The freedom and prosperity we enjoy in this country and this state are directly tied to the strength of our institutions. And our confidence in one institution—free and fair elections—was shaken in 2020.
“Texas voters have serious concerns about voting and the 2020 election, UT/TT Poll finds,” the Texas Tribune reported last fall. “Less than half of Texas registered voters are confident that Americans will trust the results of the presidential election, and fewer still said they themselves will trust those results, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.”
As pollster Joshua Blank noted, “It’s not a story of just Democrats or just Republicans. More than half in both parties say they’re not going to trust the results, or they’re not sure.”
It’s up to the Texas Legislature to restore that trust. How? With solid, popular measures such as voter ID rules (with some limited workarounds) that can give Texans confidence that their votes matter—and won’t be canceled out by illegitimate votes.