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Now to Texas, home to one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation. Critics are worried that thousands of minority voters could be disenfranchised. But with Texans heading to the polls now in an off-year election, NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports the law is posing unexpected problems for women.
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Texas judges are accustomed to a certain level of respect, even deference, as they go about their daily business in the Lone Star State. So imagine Judge Sandra Watts' surprise when she went to cast her vote last week, and was told now there was a problem.
JUDGE SANDRA WATTS: What I have used for voter registration and for identification for the last 52 years was not sufficient yesterday, when I went to vote.
GOODWYN: Why? Because the judge's name on her driver's license lists her maiden name as her middle name. But on the state's voting rolls, the judge's real middle name is there. And that's difference enough to cause a problem.
COURT: This is the first time I've ever had a problem voting. And so why would I want to use a provisional ballot when I've been voting regular ballot for the last 49 years?
GOODWYN: Sandra Watts stomped out of her polling place, and called the local Corpus Christi TV station KIII. And so the judge's voting problems were the lead story that night.
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JOE GAZEN: Good evening, everyone. I'm Joe Gazen. Katia is off this evening. At the top, the state's new voter ID law...
GOODWYN: The original Justice Department concern with Texas' voter ID law involved its discriminatory effect on the state's poor and minority voters. In 2012, a federal court ruled it unconstitutional on that basis. But that ruling was itself invalidated last year, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act. And with that, Texas' voter ID law was back from the dead. But it's come as a surprise how in practice, the law has been a problem for Texas women.
Soon after Judge Watts went public, the Democratic candidate for governor, State Sen. Wendy Davis, also was forced to sign an affidavit before she could vote. Married women, divorced women - anything that involves changing or adjusting your name could be a problem. How big a problem? Well, that depends.
TONI PIPPINS-POOLE: What the law says is in two parts.
GOODWYN: Toni Pippins-Poole is the elections administrator for the city of Dallas.
PIPPINS-POOLE: You must have a photo ID, and that photo ID has to be one of the listed categories.
GOODWYN: For example, it's fine to use a concealed-handgun carry permit to vote, but a student can't use his or her university photo ID, as they could before. Texas Democrats complain that's because those who carry concealed tend to vote Republican, while university students tend to vote Democratic.
PIPPINS-POOLE: The second part of the photo ID bill is that the name on the ID that you are presenting, that name has to be identical - exactly matched what we have on the official list of registered voters.
GOODWYN: Pippins-Poole knows the real test is next year's congressional elections.
PIPPINS-POOLE: Well, I'm worried about 2014, and I'm concerned about the elderly. People come from the nursing home; they come in buses. And they are typically the ones that are just bringing their voter registration card. They don't drive anymore. There's no need for an ID. They don't have a birth certificate, you know. Some weren't born in the hospital, or they weren't born in the state of Texas.
GOODWYN: These voters will either be turned away or allowed to vote provisionally, with their ballot set aside. They'll have a week to return to the registrar's office with a passport or birth certificate. If not, their vote is cast out. This worries Mark McKenzie, political science professor at Texas Tech, who's been following the voter ID bill closely. McKenzie says there's not been much training of election officers.
MARK MCKENZIE: It's unclear to me that the election officers will even inform the voters who vote provisionally that in order for their vote to count, they have to go back and show more documents.
GOODWYN: Texas Republicans say this brouhaha is just Democrats making a mountain out of a molehill.
CHRIS GOBER: The polls show that the vast majority of likely voters out there support the idea of showing a voter ID when you cast a ballot in order to protect the integrity of the election process.
GOODWYN: Chris Gober is an attorney with the firm Gober Hilgers, which practices political law and which has defended Texas Republicans in the state's redistricting battle. Gober says the reports of problems at the poll are overblown, and that poll officers have been told to err on the side of voters.
As for Texas Democrats, they like to point out that over the last 13 years, there's been just one case of in-person voter fraud in the state. The Texas voter ID law is again before a federal judge in Corpus Christi.
Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.
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