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Sondra Haltom, founder of Empower the Vote Texas, is correct when she reminds us that we simply cannot afford to freak out or to freak others out when dealing with the Republicans' new voter suppression law requiring photo identification to vote. As Texas Democrats help voters deal with the confusion and obstacles created by this unnecessary law that is being challenged in court, we need to try to focus on voter protection. What that means in practice is to not just get angry, but to get informed and to get active.

Since early voting began on Monday, stories regarding voters dealing with issues surrounding the new photo ID requirement have made news not just in Texas, but nationally. Earlier this week, Laurence O'Donnell interviewed Texas District Court Judge Sandra Watts regarding her experience voting under the new photo ID requirement in her own courthouse on Monday:

H/T franklyn for drawing this interview to my attention.

When she went to vote as usual, Judge Watts learned to her dismay that she would be required to complete an affidavit before voting because the name on the photo ID she presented—in this case, her valid Texas driver's license—is not identical to the name on the official list of registered voters (the name on her Texas voter registration certificate), but was determined by the election worker to be "substantially similar," apparently because the only difference is the middle name.

Judge Watts did complete the Similar Name Affidavit and was then allowed to vote using a regular ballot. Given that we're stuck with this Voter ID law for now, the law was applied fairly: Even though folks in the courthouse obviously know this judge, they still followed the law and required that she complete the affidavit before casting a regular ballot.

The next evening, O'Donnell followed up with an interview of Texas state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and activist Sarah Slamen. State Sen. Van de Putte, who hadn't yet voted, thinks she "will be forced to sign an affidavit." She then explains that state Sen. Wendy Davis and other Democrats convinced Republicans to amend the voter ID bill, which requires that names match exactly, to allow voters to sign an affidavit if the names are "substantially similar":

Transcript here

Lots of voters have been telling their stories this week, and that's important. What often gets lost in the justified outrage over the photo ID law, though, is the next and arguably most important step: Educating voters so that, rather than give up because they are confused or think that attempting to vote is a waste of time because they'll just be turned away, they understand the new process and will be more likely to turn out to vote in spite of the Republicans' blatant voter suppression efforts.

So in the latter half of the interview, state Sen. Van de Putte directly addresses Texas women voters who may feel discouraged from voting by this photo ID obstacle:

Go vote. Make sure that you sign that affidavit. And if you can't, please sign that provisional ballot.

It's important for you not to leave that voting site until you vote. That's the message we want to get out.

Please go vote. Please make sure that you do this. Don't let the Republican leadership that has been so misguided deter you from really exercising your constitutional right to vote.

Slamen asserts that voter education for women is "absolutely" necessary, as is voter ID education for millennials and Hispanics:
This is especially important for all the new, young, millennial voters [...]. Hispanics in Texas are two times as likely not to have a driver's license, and student IDs will also not be accepted.

So, if a student has a concealed carry license, they could vote, but with their student ID, they wouldn't be able to. That's not something that your average college student, who probably hasn't voted that many times, will know.

So I think the Wendy Davis campaign, Battleground Texas, the League of Women Voters—these are all going to be really central to the voting education [...].

In addition to the organizations Slamen names, informed bloggers can help to educate Texas voters as well. Please continue past the coiled ovaries to learn more.

The Texas Secretary of State's office explains the new photo ID requirement for voting in person:

Here is a list of the acceptable forms of photo ID:
  • Texas driver license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)
  • Texas Election Identification Certificate issued by DPS
  • Texas personal identification card issued by DPS
  • Texas concealed handgun license issued by DPS
  • United States military identification card containing the person’s photograph
  • United States citizenship certificate containing the person’s photograph
  • United States passport

With the exception of the U.S. citizenship certificate, the identification must be current or have expired no more than 60 days before being presented for voter qualification at the polling place.

Procedures for Voting

When a voter arrives at a polling location, the voter will be asked to present one of the seven (7) acceptable forms of photo ID. Election officials will now be required by State law to determine whether the voter’s name on the identification provided matches the name on the official list of registered voters (“OLRV”). After a voter presents their ID, the election worker will compare it to the OLRV. If the name on the ID matches the name on the list of registered voters, the voter will follow the regular procedures for voting.

If the name does not match exactly but is “substantially similar” to the name on the OLRV, the voter will be permitted to vote as long as the voter signs an affidavit stating that the voter is the same person on the list of registered voters.

If a voter does not have proper identification, the voter will still be permitted to vote provisionally. The voter will have (six) 6 days to present proper identification to the county voter registrar, or the voter’s ballot will be rejected.

After explaining exemptions and exceptions, the page presents frequently asked questions. I'm skipping to #7, which addresses the category that enables election workers to determine that names which are not exact matches are "substantially similar" and qualify a voter to cast a regular ballot.
7. What does “substantially similar” mean?

A voter’s name is considered substantially similar if one or more of the following circumstances applies:

  1. The name on the ID is slightly different from one or more of the name fields on the official list of registered voters.
  2. The name on the voter’s ID or on list of registered voters is a customary variation of the voter’s formal name. For example, Bill for William, or Beto for Alberto.
  3. The voter’s name contains an initial, middle name, or former name that is either not on the official list of registered voters or on the voter’s ID.
  4. A first name, middle name, former name or initial of the voter’s name occupies a different field on the presented ID document than it does on the list of registered voters.

In considering whether a name is substantially similar, election officials will also look at whether information on the presented ID matches elements of the voter’s information on the official list of registered voters such as the voter’s residence address or date of birth.
The Texas Secretary of State Elections Division has a 24-slide PowerPoint presentation that trains election workers to handle "substantially similar" names, which is linked through this page. (If someone can tell me how to do so, I'll link it directly here.) [Update: Here's the link to the presentation.] Here are a few examples from that training document of names that qualify as "substantially similar":
Charlie Pride / Charley Pride

David Crockett / Davy Crockett

Sam Houston / Samuel Houston

Enrique B. Gonzales / Henry B. Gonzales

Hope Andrade / Esperanza Andrade

Lyndon Johnson / Lyndon Baines Johnson

Carole Keeton Rylander / Carole Keeton Strayhorn

Sandra Day / Sandra Day O'Connor

Beyonce Knowles / Beyonce Knowles-Carter

And here's one that the election worker training features as an example when the address and date of birth should be considered in addition to the name:
TX Driver's License              List of Registered Voters
Lady Bird Johnson                  Claudia Bird Taylor
123 Texas Way                      123 Texas Way
Austin, Texas 71234               Austin, Texas 71234
Date of Birth: 12/22/1912        Date of Birth: 12/22/1912
As you can see, many variations will be considered "substantially similar" and, thus, acceptable as long as the voter completes the Similar Name Affidavit. Note that this may involve merely initialing below a checked box. Voters will also be given an opportunity to have their name on the official list of registered voters (the name on their Texas voter registration certificate) changed (at no charge to the voter) to match the name on their photo ID. This is not required to cast a regular ballot, so that decision can wait if a voter wants to think it over.

Please help to educate others. Only one photo ID is required from the list of seven above, so it is NOT necessary for any voter to gather every form of photo ID that they have to prove their identity. If a voter does not have any of the acceptable forms of photo ID, they can go to Got ID Texas? or to the Texas Department of Public Safety to find out how to get a free Election Identification Certificate.

IMPORTANT: Any voter who is required to vote provisionally or encounters other problems—such as an inability to acquire an acceptable photo ID—should call

866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683)
to report the incident. Reporting any such incidents is one way to ensure that voting rights activists can address whether the law is being applied fairly in all cases.

Relevant Texas Secretary of State sites:
Elections Division
Photo ID Requirements

Other helpful sites:
Empower the Vote Texas
Voter ID Basics
Got ID Texas?

Early voting continues through Friday, November 1st. Ask everyone you know to vote early!

PS  And after the election on Nov. 5th, let's redouble our efforts to register voters and to phonebank for Wendy Davis as well as other Democratic candidates. We have lots of work to do so that we can kick as many GOP politicians as possible out of office in 2014.

Originally posted to nomandates on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 11:33 AM PDT.

Also republished by Turning Texas: Election Digest, Kitchen Table Kibitzing, Southern Action, TexKos-Messing with Texas with Nothing but Love for Texans, Houston Area Kossacks, Dallas Kossacks, and J Town.

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