Disenfranchising Women in the Lone Star State

Texas' new voter ID will make it harder for women to cast their ballots.

Voters cast their ballots at a polling station in East Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010.

The news is filled with allegations of voter suppression. Usually, those charges are about trying to make it harder for the poor to vote by demanding that people show certain forms of ID, some of which are not easily obtainable without traveling long distances. Others charge that GOP-dominated state legislatures are trying to suppress the African-American vote, which historically has overwhelmingly favored Democrats, by curtailing early voting and other conveniences.

But who knew that voter laws could be changed to make it harder for women to vote?

In Texas, a new voter ID law demands that citizens show one of seven different kinds of identification. It also says the names on the ID and the voter registration card must be "substantially similar." That seems reasonable on its face, except that some people – particularly married or divorced women – have slightly different versions of their names on different documents.

A woman who changed her name when she married, for example, might have her original family name as her middle name on some documents; other forms might have the middle name she was given at birth as her middle name. She might have hyphenated her family name with her husband's family name.

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The voter can sign an affidavit attesting to her true identity in some cases. If the election official deems the ID insufficient, the voter can fill out a provisional ballot – but that ballot will only be counted if he (or in this case, more likely she) comes back with an ID that matches.

If it sounds like that would never happen, it already did. And remarkably, it happened to a Texas judge, Sandra Watts, who was voting inside her own courthouse. She told Texas station Kiii:

What I have used for voter registration and for identification for the last 52 years was not sufficient yesterday when I went to vote. This is the first time I have ever had a problem voting.

If a longtime resident and judge is being challenged when she tries to vote, what will happen to women with less education and a lesser ability to go obtain an ID that has their "right" name on it?

Women are the majority of voters, and the strong majority of Democratic primary voters. But they are hardly a reliable Democratic vote. Republicans can – and have – earned the support of female voters who like the GOP's philosophies on fiscal and other matters. But this law has the capacity to alienate women who otherwise might be attracted to a conservative message. The way to win the battle for the so-called female vote is to earn the votes, legitimately, for yourselves. It's not to keep them from voting at all.