Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Voter ID Law: Valid Voter Fraud Protection or Voter Disenfranchisement?

Well, Voter ID bills have passed the Texas Senate and House and it's only a matter of time before they combine the bills to become a law.  Each bill, Senate Bill (SB) 14  and House Bill (HB) 401, require voters to present valid photo ID in order to have their votes counted.  Proponents say this type of legislation will prevent voter fraud, while opponents argue that requiring photo ID would make it practically impossible for senior shut-ins and the poor to vote. So what's the real story.

If you check out this Voter Fraud Timeline there are plenty of allegations of voter fraud, but if you look for actual legal action or indictments for voter fraud the list is actually pretty small and minor.  According to Ballotpedia voter fraud in Texas usually has to do more with mailing in another person's ballot, ordering one or two mail in ballots for someone else, votes by convicted felons (who may not have known that it was illegal for them to vote), and a few cases of people claiming to be illegal aliens to get out of jury duty (jurors are partly chosen from voter registration rolls).  The only case of voter fraud that was really egregious and actually did lead to a conviction was the election Refugio County Commissioner, Raymond Villarreal.

Raymond Villarreal, a Refugio County commissioner, pleaded guilty in 2007 to a felony count of tampering with a governmental document and a misdemeanor count of wrongful possession of a ballot. District Judge W.W. Kilgore sentenced Villarreal to 90 days in county jail, 300 hours of community service and $2,500 in fines. If he violates terms of a five-year probation, he could get sent to state prison for two years. Villarreal also agreed to pay back $2,090 to the county, in conjunction with his use of county equipment and county employees to do work on private property, but charges were never filed.[20]

Villarreal resigned and admitted his role in a voter fraud scheme involving mail-in ballots that helped him get elected in 2006, officials said. Villarreal got county residents to sign mail-in ballot applications, but had those applications sent to his supporters. After the ballots were filled out indicating a vote for Villarreal, he had the original applicants sign them. "It left a bad taste in my mouth that somebody would try to defraud the system — the same system that I worked to be elected," Refugio County Sheriff Earl Petropoulos said.[20]

Claims that there are more Hispanic voters on the rolls than actual citizens and voting by dead people seem to be anecdotal at best and not borne out by reality.

According to the US Census detailed tables on Hispanic Voter Registration (2008), the number of Hispanic citizens out numbers Hispanics registered to vote by 40% (see Table 2, Hispanics) and the number of Hispanics who are registered, but don't vote is 50%.  When looking at our region (West South Central, Table 3, Hispanics) the percentage of Hispanics registered who didn't vote was even higher, 62%.

The Texas Secretary of State's Office ran an audit of Voter Registration Systems.  The report found that there were registered voters who were possible felons or dead, but claimed they couldn't find evidence that these people had voted, because they didn't have enough time before the election.  Now why they couldn't check these allegations out after the election is anybody's guess.

The TEAM system included the following voter registration records for the May 12, 2007, special election that auditors identified as belonging to people who were potentially ineligible to vote:
  • Records for 23,114 voters identified as possible felons using data provided by the Department of Criminal Justice. The data identified felons on community supervision as of April 30, 2007, and felons who were incarcerated or on parole as of May 31, 2007. The Secretary of State’s Office identified 1,124 (4.9 percent) of these possible felons prior to the election, but it was not able to complete its investigations to verify the registrants’ felon status and remove them from the TEAM system before the election.
  • Records for 23,576 voters believed to be deceased because these records matched death records through November 30, 2006, obtained from the Bureau of Vital Statistics. The Secretary of State’s Office identified three of these records prior to the election, but it was not able to complete its investigations to verify that these voters were deceased and remove them from the TEAM system before the election. It should be noted that the number of potentially deceased voters auditors identified may be understated because the data obtained from the Bureau of Vital Statistics did not include death notices for the six months prior to the May 12, 2007, special election.
The only part of the audit that addresses illegal alien voting is a survey of the 254 county voter registration offices in Texas.  The survey asked
Do you have procedures to identify ineligible voter applicants, such as felons, non-citizens, or voters who submitted duplicate registrations?
Forty-six percent of the counties said they had no identity procedures and 11% didn't respond.

The issue seems to be more one of record housekeeping than actual voter fraud.  The possibility exists for election shenanigans, but the low level of indictments and convictions speaks otherwise.

So what about the claims that Voter ID legislation will put such a high burden on the elderly and the poor that they won't be able to vote?

Well, first, let's look at the two bills.  SB 14 requires the following types of ID:
Sec. 63.0101. DOCUMENTATION OF PROOF OF IDENTIFICATION. Provides that the following documentation is an acceptable form of photo identification under this chapter: a driver's license or personal identification card issued to the person by the Department of Public Safety (DPS) that has not expired; a United States military identification card that contains the person's photograph that has not expired; a United States citizenship certificate issued to the person that contains the person's photograph; or a United States passport issued to the person that has not expired.
There is an exception to the ID requirement in section 63.001

Provides that the requirements for identification prescribed by Subsection (b) do not apply to a voter who presents the voter's voter registration certificate on offering to vote and was 70 years of age or older on January 1, 2012, as indicated by the date of birth on the voter's voter registration certificate.
So as the Senate Bill stands, it does not appear to be an impediment to the elderly.

The bill also amends section 521.422, subsections (a) and (d) of the Transportation Code
(a) Provides that the fee for a personal identification certificate, except as provided under Subsection (d), is $15 for a person under 60 years of age, $5 for a person 60 years of age or older, and $20 for a person subject to the registration requirements under Chapter 62 (Sex Offender Registration Program), Code of Criminal Procedure.

(d) Prohibits DPS from collecting a fee for a personal identification certificate issued to a person who states that the person is obtaining the personal identification certificate for the purpose of satisfying Section 63.001(b), Election Code, and who is a registered voter in this state and presents a valid voter registration certificate, or who is eligible for registration under Section 13.001 (Eligibility For Registration), Election Code, and submits a registration application to DPS.
So a registered voter can get a free ID, if they show DPS their voters registration card.  Here we get into a murky area because that means the voter would have to go to the DPS office to get the ID.  Some voter advocates are claiming that it is hard for poor people, or people who are home bound to get to the DPS office.  They are able to vote with mail in ballots that are sent to their homes, but they have to travel to prove eligibility to vote.

OK, so what about the House Bill.  At the very beginning of HB 401 it states
Sec. 12.007.  TEXAS VOTER IDENTIFICATION CARD. (a) Each voter registrar shall issue Texas voter identification cards to registered voters to be used only for the purpose of meeting the identification requirements of Section 63.001(b). The voter registrar must provide at least one place in the county to accept applications for and issue Texas voter identification cards. The  voter registrar may not charge an application fee or a fee for the issuance of a Texas voter identification card.

(f)  A Texas voter identification card remains valid if the person to whom it was issued resides at the same address and remains qualified to vote. A person who changes residence within the state must surrender the card to the voter registrar of the new county of residence and may apply for and receive a Texas voter identification card issued by the new county of residence if the person is otherwise eligible under this section. A person who moves residence outside the state or who ceases to be qualified to vote must surrender the person's Texas voter identification card to the voter registrar who issued the card.
Both bills provide for free Voter ID but each bill expects either DPS or the counties to come up with money to pay for ID cards for voting purposes (unfunded mandate).  At least the HB allows the voter to keep the same card as long as they live in the same dwelling.  But, I thought we didn't have any money?  Also, there is that thorny transportation/mobility problem. 

But what proportion of the poor, elderly and shut-ins vote in the free-for-all world of  No ID Required voting?  Let's take a look at the Census figures.

According Table 2 of the Voter and Election detailed tables 74% of citizens over the age of 75 are registered to vote and 66% actually voted.  But if the language for the SB makes it through, these voters will not be effected.  In Table 8, Reported Voting and Registration of Family Members, by Age and Family Income: November 2008 of the total citizens in the US making under $10,000 per year, 72% were registered to vote and 49% reported voting. (for the purposes of this post $10,000 per year per person is poverty level) When Hispanics are parsed out of the total population (Table 9) the percentage of registered voters below the poverty level drops to 50% and only 35% reported voting.  Remember, these tables represent voting in 2008 when there was a lot of excitement about the election.

The sad fact is, people in Texas just don't vote.  Between 1988 and 2010 voter turnout rates in Bexar County dropped from 66% to 34%.   During the Presidential election in 2008 voter turnout jumped up to 57%, but wouldn't you expect a better turnout for a highly contested, historical election?

So who's right, those who want to protect Texas from the evils of Voter Fraud or the voter advocates who claim legislators are trying to prevent the poor and elderly from voting? 

Potential for Voter Fraud exists, but it hasn't really been a major problem and traveling to get Voter ID Cards for the poor could be a problem, but I'm sure some enterprising Voter Advocate will figure out a way to get poor people to the ID office.   

The biggest problem that I see with the law is it just adds another item to an already stressed budget.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Gerrymandering: What is it and What can YOU do about it

Well the US Census figures are out and it's the season for Redistricting.  So what does the Census have to do with Redistricting?  Back in the late 1780s, when our Forefathers were trying to figure out how to run this country, they were pretty much inventing a new political system and needed to figure out a way to elect political representatives.  So the agreement they came to is in Article I, Section 2 of the US Constitution

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative;  [The sentence that is linked was amended by the 14th Amendment in 1868 after the Civil War.]
The enumeration has become known as the US Census and as it is laid out in the Constitution is is conducted every 10 years.  Nowadays the Census is much more than a head count.  The Census Bureau collects all kinds of data from housing to racial makeup to income, but it's first charge is to come up with population figures for each state in the union.  The reason why population was considered the determining factor in representation was because the power of the people was what was considered important, not the power of the states.

Nowadays, with a population of over 308 million inhabitants, having Congressional districts with only 30,000 persons (and this is everyone, including prisoners, legal immigrants and illegal immigrants, originally slaves were included in the count (3/5 of a person) to help the South get more representatives) would mean that there would be over 10,000 US Representatives.  This is a rather unwieldy number so the number of inhabitants per district has gone up to over 700,000 per district.  In order to not have to be constantly changing the number of inhabitants per district, in 1929 Congress enacted the Reapportionment Act of 1929, which capped the number of US Congressmen (representatives) at 435 members.

So as the population rises and shifts from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt, districts shift, grow or merge.  Some states with declining populations, such as Michigan, actually lose Congressional seats, while states with growing populations like Texas, gain seats (Michigan -1, Texas +4).

The duty to redraw district lines falls to each individual state legislature and they each have their own ways of dealing with reapportionment.  District lines are supposed to be drawn to include communities of common interest, take into account geographical regions and features, and have fairly equal populations.  Usually redistricting is handled by a state legislative sponsored committee, largely made up of politicians.  This year for the first time, California is experimenting with a 14-member Citizen Redistricting Committee chosen from a pool of 30,000 applicants.

So why would California hand off its redistricting duty to citizens?  Many people find the legislative handling of redistricting to be less about the people choosing their representatives and more about the representatives choosing their voters.  This is definitely not what the Founders intended.  Back in high school government class you may have heard the term Gerrymandering.  This term refers to a district drawn by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1812 under the Governorship of Eldridge Gerry.  The districts were drawn to give an advantage to Gerry's political party, thus insuring their reelection.  One district was so convoluted it resembled a salamander, so the name Gerrymander was coined.  
Source: Wikimedia Commons
But this was not the first case of a contrived district. In a recent broadcast on the Diane Rehm Show about the Constitution and redistricting, one of her guests, Sean O'Brien of the Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montpelier, told an interesting story about a manipulated district.

The history of gerrymandering predates the name gerrymandering and goes back to actually before the first Congress even existed. So Patrick Henry was governor of Virginia, he was an anti-Federalist, James Madison was a Federalist. Patrick Henry arranged for James Madison not to get elected to the Senate because at that time, the Senate was chosen by the members of the state legislature. So James Madison was going to have to run for Congress if he wanted to be able to introduce the Bill of Rights.

He had been then appointed to the last continental Congress so that he had to travel up to New York to be part of that, or Philadelphia, rather, to be part of that Congress so he wouldn't be able to run locally. And so his friends were saying, James you have got to come back and campaign in your district because the district that has been drawn for you, as described by one person as having 1,000 eccentric angles and it was drawn to put him in the same district with James Monroe who was an anti-Federalist at the time.
Gerrymandering in the past was not only used to keep districts loyal to certain parties.  The practice was also used to separate racial minorities from their peers to keep them from developing political clout.  This practice is now illegal and was outlawed by the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.  However, the practice of drawing districts to favor political parties is still legal and has actually been upheld by the Supreme Court.   

So now we get to redistricting in Texas.  In 2003, Texas Democrats famously went on the lam to Oklahoma to prevent quorum so the new, Tom Delay sponsored, redistricting plan couldn't be brought up for vote.   After 4 days they returned with a promise that the plan would not be brought up for a vote during the regular session.   But as soon as the regular session was over Governor Rick Perry (R) called a special session specifically to vote on the redistricting plan.  This time the plan passed.  Democratic State Senators (the Texas Eleven), again tried to block the vote by fleeing to New Mexico for 46 days.  Tom Delay even suggested having the FBI arrest the senators because he considered the issue of federal significance.  Senator John Whitmire (D) finally broke, went back to the special session and the plan passed.
Changes in Congressional Districts Source: Wikimedia Commons

Democrats, however, were not willing to give up the fight and in 2006 took the issue all the way to the Supreme Court.  They claimed that the new redistricting plan, unusual because it was made in an off-Census year when Republicans had a majority in the House, was unconstitutional and that it violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  But as the Washington Post reported the court didn't agree.
The Supreme Court upheld most of Texas's Republican-drafted 2003 congressional redistricting plan yesterday in a ruling that could prompt majority parties in other states to redraw political maps to their advantage.

The endorsement of the plan, which former House majority leader Tom DeLay crafted to tilt Texas's congressional delegation to the GOP, was not absolute. By a vote of 5 to 4, the court ruled that a sprawling West Texas district represented by Henry Bonilla (R) violates the Voting Rights Act because it diluted the voting power of Latinos.

But seven justices rejected at least part of the opponents' broadest contention: that the entire Texas plan is unconstitutional because the legislature rewrote a previous court-drawn map, three years after the most recent census, out of nothing more than a desire for Republican advantage.
Just a sidebar to this, Henry Bonilla, who didn't get his district redrawn, lost his next election to Democrat Ciro Rodriguez.

So, what can we non-politicians do about partisan redistricting?  Well, first and foremost, VOTE.  Secondly, learn more about the redistricting process. Columbia University Law School students in the Redistricting and Gerrymandering course are working on the first non-partisan redistricting map for all 435 districts in the country.  Their website, gives options for maps that they hope legislatures will consider when redrawing district boundaries.  They also invite anyone who is interested to come up with their own plans.
Anyone interested in participating in the project and submitting plans should contact Professor Nathaniel Persily at All submitted plans must include statewide and district-specific maps, as well as a block equivalency file in “.csv” format.
Columbia is using the Maptitude for Redistricting software to draw their maps.  But there is also open source software at the Public Mapping Project.  Both the site and the Public Mapping Project will take you through the process of redistricting and the Public Mapping Project even has a Citizen's Guide to Redistricting.

So, How do YOU want to draw Congressional District Boundaries?????

Thursday, March 3, 2011

We Don't Have to Rely on the Texas Leg for Education

The threat of severe budget cuts to Education has everyone in a state of panic these days.  Teachers are worried about their jobs, parents are worried about their children's futures and college students are wondering if they will be able to afford next semester. 

So what can we in San Antonio do about it?

We can raise the city's sales tax by 1/8 of a cent and dedicate that money to education.

Mayor Julian Castro is proposing the tax hike to meet the goals set by SA2020.  The two most important issues facing San Antonio, as determined by the participants of SA2020, are Education and Transportation.  Most people already know that an educated work force is the best way to attract new businesses to a city, so allowing Education to falter would not be in SA's best interests. 

Right now all the Legislature is planning on doing is CUT, CUT, CUT.

So, what do you think San Antonio?