Attorney General Greg Abbott’s decision to appeal the federal court ruling that the Texas voter ID law is discriminatory generated a lively conversation with my wife. We both believed that it was bad legislation, but the forcefulness of her convictions at first startled me and upon reflection, impressed me and made me think. At the birth of our nation, rights were not equally shared, and throughout our history the right to vote has been bitterly contested and begrudgingly granted. It took nearly 150 years to go from a state where only free male property owners could vote to one where any citizen 21 or older could vote. Even after the 13th and 19th Amendments were passed, legal hurdles like the poll tax and white primaries were set up to deny some people the right to vote. Court rulings and laws like the 1965 Voting Rights Act moved our country forward by making such practices illegal. The right to vote along with the one-person-one-vote concept is the cornerstone of democracy. People fight and die for this right. Denial of one’s right to vote is a denial of democracy, so any change to voting law demands cautious deliberation. With that in mind, I thought about Texas’ voided voter ID law and my grandmother.
When my grandmother turned 21, laws in effect at the time did not allow her to vote. When those laws were changed, she viewed voting as a responsibility she never shirked. She worked at the same place for decades and lived in the same house for decades. She had a voter registration card and a long-established voting history. Her identity is easily proved, yet under the state’s voter ID law, her voter registration card no longer would be adequate proof. She would be denied the right to vote without presenting a valid photo ID.
For my grandmother, obtaining a valid photo ID would have been a confusing and quite probably impossible demand. She was born in a town in Oklahoma that’s now at the bottom of a reservoir. She never drove and never traveled outside Oklahoma or Texas, so she had neither a driver’s license nor a passport and probably couldn’t produce a birth certificate. If she could have produced her birth certificate, the effort and the cost to do so would have been an aggravation and a burdensome expense. This law would disenfranchise voters, mostly people like my grandmother, which means it should only be imposed for a compelling reason.