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Texas Senate advances Voter ID bill after all-night session 

Greg M. Schwartz

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The Texas Senate's Committee of the Whole voted through passage of a Voter ID bill along party lines this morning, following an all-night session of debate on the contentious issue. Senate Bill 362, requiring that voters present a photo ID in order to vote, passed 19-12.

The result was all but guaranteed after Republicans had tweaked Senate rules in January to enable members to debate the ID bill with a mere majority vote rather than the two-thirds' margin normally required. The bill will now go before the full Senate, perhaps as early as Monday, for final passage. If it passes there, it will go on to the Texas House, whose members passed Voter ID bills in 2005 and 2007. Democrats have gained 11 seats in the Texas House since trailing 87-63 in 2005, narrowing the Republican majority to 76-74, but still enough to pass the bill if the vote follows strict party lines.

"I sort of know how the Manchurian candidate felt," Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) told the Austin American-Statesman regarding the all-night session, an intriguing reference to the classic 1962 film where a former American POW and son of a prominent politician is brainwashed by Communists who deprive him of sleep while programming him to become a mind-controlled assassin.

Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso) grilled witnesses such as Hans von Spakovsky, a former Federal Elections Commission member who is currently with the conservative Heritage Foundation, on the issue. Von Spakovsky spoke of reports of illegal aliens registering and voting in Bexar County, but when Shapleigh asked if any of those allegations led to prosecutions or convictions, von Spakovsky admitted he didn't know.

The Texas Democratic Party takes State Senator and SB 362 author Tommy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) to task for a bill that they say will discriminate against women, among others. The Dems seized on Fraser's comment that he has trouble hearing women's voices, after he'd been questioned by Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Ft. Worth) during the floor debate.

“Sen. Fraser's voter suppression legislation threatens to take Texas back to the days when some citizens had a voice in the election process and others, including women, were silenced,” said Texas Democratic Party Spokeswoman Kirsten Gray in a press release. “Sen. Fraser and his fellow Texas Senate Republicans need to move past their selective hearing and listen to what this bill really is: A sad and divisive echo from the past.”

Gray cited US Census Bureau and Federal Highway Administration stats that women are more than twice as likely as men not to have a drivers license, that one of every five senior women does not have one and that 70 percent of al those without a license are women.

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst continued with his disingenuous palaver about the bill's importance in preventing alleged vote impersonation, of which his party has still failed to present any prosecutable evidence for.

“The very foundation of our democracy rests on preserving the integrity of one person one vote, so we must do everything we can in Texas to ensure each vote cast is legal,” Dewhurst said in a press release. “I congratulate Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) on passing this legislation out of committee, moving Texas one step closer to a more secure voting system that will help us prevent voter fraud and instill greater confidence among all Texans that their vote counts.”

Express-News columnist Carlos Guerra breaks down the bottom line when he writes that the ID battle is about which party gets to control the redistricting process for the state legislature.

“What this is really all about is that Republicans don't want a lot of African Americans and Latinos to vote in Texas in 2010, since 90-plus percent of blacks and 70-plus percent of Latinos voted for Barack Obama,” writes Guerra today. “And though Democrats tend to vote straight tickets at a rate lower than Republicans, the minorities' numbers might still overwhelm the GOP in the next general election and end the Republicans' control of the Texas House, and maybe even the Senate. So what is really at stake is which party is going to draw up redistricting maps for the Texas House and Senate, and especially, Texas' expanded congressional delegation.”

Curiously, none other than Karl Rove was sited in the Texas Capitol cafeteria on the eve of the debate. Coincidence or conspiracy?

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