Identity Crisis: Voter Suppression Legislation Hits Texas

A few months ago, I signed a lease on a new apartment. It had everything I was looking for: wood floors, great location, and mid-century charm. It was me.

I signed the lease and paid my deposit, never once showing any form of ID, photo or otherwise. Rachel Farris, whomever she is, is locked-in to these 720 square feet for the next 12 months. I then began the process of canceling my old cable service and setting up utilities and gas. All of these transactions were done over the phone, my credit card number being the green light to initiate services and not once was I asked for photo ID. As the bills started rolling in, I noticed that my name took on different permutations - Time Warner knows me as "RICHEL FARRIS," despite the fact that I clearly enunciated my name, letter-by-letter, several times for the operator. City of Austin Electric bills a "RACHELL" monthly. Spelling, apparently, is not critical to establishing my identity in the eyes of my utilities providers.

Speaking of identity crises, this week the Texas Senate will begin debate, yet again, on the Voter ID bill. Due to some early-session shenanigans, the Senate will likely pass the bill. Then it will be up to the Texas House.

Last week I got up early before work and, grumbling, did my taxes. I got online and e-filed my way to an audit-free existence (fingers crossed, of course). I stumbled my way through them as best I could, clicking "no" when I didn't know the answer ("Were you part of a disaster area in 2008?" being one of them -- I wondered, Does living under the Bush regime count?). When I finally hit "File Now," I sat back to await my generous refund after paying nearly $10,000 to the government this past year. Despite this large, annual financial transaction between the IRS and me, I never once showed a photo ID.

As an American taxpayer, attempting to go through life as responsibly and carefully as I can, I must encounter thousands of instances each week where my identity is established based on some sort of verbal confirmation, or a routing number, or a numeric pin, and even sometimes the oft overlooked tradition of trust. I maintain my identity by crawling out of bed every morning, going to work, paying my taxes, protecting my credit, not killing people who enrage me, obeying traffic laws (plus or minus five miles an hour) and, when the occasion arises, voting. I do these things, by and large, without ever once reaching for a photo ID.

We all understand the point of the Voter ID bill, at least to the extent that we know the strategy. We know that voter fraud in Texas is not any sort of epidemic. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott spent two years and $1.4 million investigating voter fraud, resulting in zero cases of actual, intentional fraud. The legislation is designed to deter thousands of indigent, disabled and elderly voters, who might not have a form of photo identification, from voting. As Democratic political consultant Harold Cook said this weekend in Austin, "These are the people who are almost off the grid." And, unfortunately for the Republicans, these are the same people who, when they finally do get done crawling out of bed, going to work, paying their taxes, protecting their credit, not killing people, and obeying traffic laws, they vote. For Democrats. They identify with Democrats. Just as I manage to do most if not all of my daily routine without showing a photo ID, these people manage to do most if not all of their daily routines without having a photo ID. Maybe they can't afford it. Maybe they don't have time to get one. Maybe they physically cannot obtain one. Maybe they forget they don't have one. Any of these scenarios are rather plausible once you think about how often you actually need one.

My friend Helen* was telling me today how she was twenty-two days behind on her car payment. When the loan collector called to ask where her money was, Helen said that she didn't have the money and she'd pay when she could. The collection agency then asked her if she wanted to lose her car. She said, "Come and get it. But first, let me ask you - what happened to the $25 billion that went to Wells Fargo that should have gone to people like me? Where's that money?"

It's ironic that a political party, whose ideology has diverged so far off course from their own base's identity, is now asking me to prove mine; Texans to prove theirs. When did doubting Americans' identity become patriotic? And if you can't answer that, then tell me this: Do you think they'll ask for photo ID when they take Helen's car away?