By special guest blogger, my wife, Sally Carter
I really love talking politics with my Mom and Dad. They’re both what I would consider “moderate” politically (i.e., not crazy), with my Mom tending towards the left and my Dad pretty squarely on the right, and as someone who considers herself a firm progressive, I always find their opinions and points of view valuable. I grew up in Texas, and while I don’t live there anymore (I am, at present, in the similarly frustrating political landscape of Georgia), my parents and a good-sized portion of my heart reside in the Lone Star state. And so at a family gathering/event this past weekend in the politically-neutral state of Minnesota, I was excited to have an opportunity to talk with them in person about some events that have been unfolding recently in Texas.
Me: “So have you been following the new voter ID thing?”
Mom: “I don’t think so, what new voter ID thing?”
(Dad quickens pace to slightly faster than wife and daughter, reaches plausible out-of-earshot distance)
Me: “So you know how you have to have your driver’s license to vote now, photo ID?”
Me: “So for some reason, a long time ago they made it the law in Texas that your driver’s license has to have your maiden name on it, even if it’s not legally part of your name anymore – is that how yours is?”
Mom: “Really? I’m not actually sure what mine says,”
Me: “Yeah, well your license probably has your maiden name on it like it’s your middle name, but the name on your voter’s registration has your real full name,”
(Dad slows pace, could be considered to be actively listening to conversation)
Me: “So they don’t match. The name on your ID doesn’t match the name they have on the roll,”
Mom: “Oh. Wait…”
Me: “So, fun new rule – you and every other married woman in Texas might have problems when they go to vote,”
(Dad makes skeptical face and noise, re-quickens pace)
Mom: “So what do I need to prove that those names are both me?”
Me: “Your marriage certificate. Not a copy.”
Mom: “I’m not bringing my marriage certificate. I’m not digging that out,”
Me: “Well, they might try to make you vote on a provisional ballot. A judge had problems when she went to vote last week,”
Mom: “I have to check and see how my name is on my voter’s registration,”
Me: “And this is all just in time for Wendy Davis and the election for governor,”
Mom: “But someone will challenge this right? It will go to court?”
Me: “I don’t know, the reason they get to do this is because the Supreme Court overturned part of the Voting Rights Act, remember just a few months ago?”
(At this point, most of the relevant information has been exchanged, and the rest of the discussion consists of me and my mom making appropriately disparaging remarks about Republican politicians in Texas. You get the idea.)
It turned out that my mother’s driver’s license did indeed have her maiden name on it, which did not match the name under which she was registered to vote. However, Texas elections administrators announced that if the names were “substantially similar” a woman would simply have to sign an affidavit and would then be allowed to vote – a regular ballot, not a provisional one.
My mom usually votes on Election Day (in this case, November 5). But today, the very first day my parents got back to Texas, my mom looked up the closest polling place for early voting and went down there so that she could take care of the name discrepancy and make sure that she was able to cast her ballot in time. As promised, she was allowed to vote after signing an affidavit. She was also permitted to change her name on the voter registration rolls so that it matched the name on her driver’s license.
Me: “So you had to show something as proof to change your name on the rolls, right? Did you take your marriage certificate after all?”
Wait, WHAT? What has all of this been about? If it isn’t really a problem that the names on the roll and the names on the IDs aren’t exactly the same, then why make everyone go through this affidavit business? Even if I pretend to agree that voter fraud is an actual problem in Texas, just how, precisely, does this reduce it?
One might conclude that this is simply adding an extra step (and time, and resources) to the voting process. And that this extra step mainly affects women. And that some women like my Mom will be expecting this extra step and make sure that they have enough time to take care of it, but many of them won’t. And whether they are expecting it or not, women like my Mom – who are white and live in nice, upper middle-class suburban neighborhoods – most likely won’t have a problem having their affidavits approved by the election officials. But hey, this year Texas is just voting on dull, constitutional amendments. One might conclude that we won’t really understand the effects of this rule until a more exciting, higher-turnout election is held – you know, like an election for governor.