Texas voter ID law didn't suppress vote

Bryan Preston says despite dire predictions that the new Texas voter ID law would suppress votes, turnout was high.

Story highlights

  • Prominent Texas Democrats blamed the new voter ID law for problems in registering to vote
  • Bryan Preston: But problems due to expired driver's license, maiden names not updated
  • Preston: Voter ID foes say it suppresses votes; if so, 2013 turnout would be lower
  • He says 2013 turnout increased by 63% over turnout in 2011's comparable off-year elections

For weeks leading up to the 2013 off-year elections, prominent Texas Democrats directly blamed the state's new voter ID law for problems in registration.

First, Judge Sandra Watts said she had a problem because the name on her driver's license and the name on her voter registration card did not match. It turns out she had left her maiden name on her voter registration. It also turns out that it is the individual's responsibility to ensure that his or her voter information is up to date. Watts was able to vote.

Then, state Sen. Wendy Davis, the presumed Democratic nominee for Texas governor, said she had a problem, too. Like Watts, the name on her driver's license did not match the name on her registration card. She signed an affidavit, which the polling place provided, and was able to vote.

Then, nearer Election Day, former Speaker of the House Jim Wright said that he, too, had a problem voting. He said the Texas Department of Public Safety would not give him a voter ID card. But Wright, who is 90, tried to use an expired driver's license, which for most voters serves as their photo ID. How is this the fault of the state or anyone who supports voter ID? Wright got his card by going home and finding his birth certificate, and was able to vote.

Bryan Preston

We know of these stories because all three prominent Democrats took those voting problems straight to the media.

What we do not know from these three stories is how the voter ID law actually affected turnout.

Democrats who oppose voter ID have consistently claimed that it suppresses votes. If they are correct, then Texas should have seen turnout drop off in 2013 compared with the closest comparable election.

The 2013 election in Texas was an off-year, constitutional amendment election. Texas holds constitutional amendment elections every two years, after its legislative sessions, to give Texans the opportunity to approve or reject items that the legislature has approved for a vote. The Texas secretary of state administers elections and posts totals going back to 1992.

According to the Texas secretary of state's office, 10 amendments were up for vote in 2011, the last constitutional amendment election before the voter ID law passed. Some issues received more votes than others. The one most voted on received 690,052 votes, for and against. Overall, an average of about 672,874 Texans voted on these 10 constitutional amendments.

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If voter ID suppressed votes, we should see a drop in turnout, right? Well, according to the Texas secretary of state's office, nine amendments went up for vote in 2013. The amendment that attracted the most votes, Proposition One, attracted 1,144,844. The average number of votes cast in 2013 was 1,099,670.

So, in terms of raw votes, turnout in 2013 increased by about 63% over turnout in 2011 in comparable elections. But that's statewide. How about in areas the anti-voter ID side predicted should see "suppression"?

Turnout for the 2011 election was 5.37% of registered voters; for 2013 it was about 8%.

Democrats allege that voter ID will suppress the vote in predominantly Hispanic regions. Hidalgo County sits on the Texas-Mexico border and is 90% Hispanic. In 2011, an average of just over 4,000 voted in the constitutional amendment election. In 2013, an average of over 16,000 voted.

If voter ID was intended to suppress votes, it is failing as spectacularly as HealthCare.gov.

Look at Cameron County, which is about 85% Hispanic. Turnout increased from an average of 4,700 votes in 2011 to 5,100 in 2013.

So in its first real-world test, Texas' voter ID law -- which 66% of Texans support, according to a 2012 University of Texas poll -- had no impact on suppressing the vote. It even can be argued that voter ID helped increase turnout. Turnout was up, and in fact, the 2013 constitutional amendment election saw the highest constitutional amendment election turnout in Texas in about eight years.

Opponents of voter ID must come up with a new line to attack it. The old dog that it suppresses the vote just won't hunt.

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