Both sides are already making claims and counterclaims about the impact of Texas’ strict voter ID law in last week’s election. There’s no question that some legitimate voters were disenfranchised by the law. But how many? Perhaps a large number — but the truth is, nobody knows. The difficulty of gauging the law’s effect, at least in the election’s immediate aftermath, points to an irony that has characterized the voter ID controversy nationally: Though lawyers challenging ID measures have marshaled reams of compelling evidence to show how they could keep voters from the polls, individual elections are not well-suited to demonstrating the impact. That’s not stopping partisans from jumping into the debate. At a post-election event last week, Gilberto Hinojosa, the chair of the Texas Democratic Party, said the ID law was “a large part of the reason” for the decline in state’s 2010 turnout (though he also said that Texans who didn’t turn out “need to look at yourself in the mirror”). His Republican counterpart, Steve Munisteri, just as confidently dismissed the idea. Around 600,000 registered Texas voters don’t have one of the limited forms of ID that the law allows, according to evidence presented at trial. The state did almost nothing to challenge that assessment. That means there’s no doubt whatsoever that the law disenfranchised legitimate voters. MSNBC met with several of them last week.
There is also no serious doubt that the number of disenfranchised voters exceeds the amount of fraudulent votes the law stopped. Texas has been able to point to just two fraudulent votes since 2000 that would have been prevented by the ID law.
Still, it’s also important to know how many people we’re talking about — and whether any major races were affected. That, however, is hard to determine with much certainty.
No one argues that the ID law affected Texas’ governor’s race, in which Republican Greg Abbott beat Democrat Wendy Davis by about 958,000 votes. But Republican Will Hurd won Texas’ only competitive House race by just 2,500 votes, ousting Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego. If Texans without acceptable IDs were spread evenly throughout the state’s congressional districts, approximately 17,000 registered voters in that race lacked IDs.