Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos entered the Karnes County Courthouse one morning last week with the usual spring in his step to tell an attentive audience of about 30 local officials and interested parties about the state’s voter ID law, struck down by a federal judge as unduly restrictive and discriminatory. Any of seven photo IDs will work, he begins, reiterating the parameters of the original law, by way of introducing court-ordered changes. “Where the change is now is that if someone is unable to obtain one of those seven IDs, that’s OK — they can come in and they need to file a declaration saying that they’ve been impeded or there’s a reasonable impediment as to why they’ve been unable to obtain one of the seven approved IDs,” he says. Only then should poll workers accept other forms of identification to vote, such as a birth certificate, voter registration card, pay check, utility bill, bank statement or government document, he explains. “It’s really not that complex,” Cascos says, in a presentation he gives several times a week.
Civil rights lawyers, U.S. Justice Department officials and Texas Democrats, however, say that, instead of making clear how easy it is to vote, Cascos further muddies the waters to discourage turnout, especially among Hispanic voters who are more likely to vote Democratic.
The state’s top election official, Cascos is a Democrat-turned-Republican, but this job demands nonpartisanship, an even-handedness complemented by the kindly countenance he carries with him.
But all that is being put to the test as Cascos finds himself in the thick of one of the most contentious issues in Texas politics, presiding over his office’s campaign to educate Texans between now and Election Day, Nov. 8, about court-ordered changes in the state’s voter ID law.