Celia Israel

In 2011, Texas implemented legislation that required a registered citizen to bring one of seven forms of photo ID to the polls in order to vote. It is estimated that this requirement could prevent 600,000 registered Texas voters from voting because they lack an acceptable form of ID.

While photo ID requirements look like they’re here to stay, one state representative is working to help ease the burden it places on students. House Bill 733, filed by state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, would make voting more accessible for UT students by allowing them to use a school ID or a Veteran Health Identification Card at the voting booth.  

The current forms of photo ID that are accepted are often inconvenient or expensive for students, especially for out-of-state students who don’t have a Texas driver’s license.

Current law would require them to go to the Department of Public Safety in order to get a state-issued ID to vote. While they can be issued an election identification certificate there free of charge, it can be difficult for students without a car to get to the DPS, as the closest driver’s license office is nearly four miles from campus.

Students also have the option to get a passport card in West Campus, but it will cost them $55 — too high a price to exercise a constitutional right. Short of getting a concealed handgun license, joining the military or applying for a citizenship certificate (if they are American citizens who were born overseas), students are suddenly out of options for being able to vote if they can’t afford these options or didn’t bring the necessary paperwork with them to college.

In contrast, if HB 733 became law, UT students would be able to use their student ID issued by the University. For out-of-state students, this would allow them to use a non-Texas license to obtain a student ID. Instead of requiring a trip to the DPS, they could go to the Flawn Academic Center on campus. HB 733 would also make Veteran Health Identification Cards an acceptable form of ID, making voting even easier for over 1,000 student veterans at UT.

While many supporters of having strict photo ID requirements would argue that this opens up the possibility of voter fraud by those ineligible to vote, this is simply not the case.

Individuals must still comply with eligibility requirements, such as being a citizen when they register to vote in Texas, and this information is subsequently verified. Since 2000, only two people in the state of Texas have been convicted of in-person voter impersonation, which voter ID is supposedly intended to address.

This lack of evidence that voter fraud is occurring anywhere near a significant amount would suggest that the procedures previously in place were already adequate. However, in order to address the two cases of voter fraud that could have been prevented by a photo ID, hundreds of thousands of Texans could now be lacking the identification necessary to vote.

Many of these Texans are specifically out-of-state students, who would benefit from Israel’s bill. When students move to Austin, they become a part of our community and they deserve the right to vote here. By making it exceedingly difficult for students to vote where they live, the current voter ID laws deny them this right and prevent them from becoming civically engaged. If we want students to vote and have a voice in issues affecting them, we must first make sure they have the ability to vote.

HB 733 doesn’t come close to solving all of the issues that come with photo ID requirements. It still creates an effective poll tax and hundreds of thousands of Texans will still lack access to an acceptable ID. However, it is a commendable effort to amend the Legislature’s previous decisions. By expanding the types of ID accepted, HB 733 specifically makes voting more accessible for all students.

Alcantara is a Plan II sophomore from Houston. She is the communications director for University Democrats.

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Four Texas lawmakers are making voter turnout among college students a priority by proposing bills that would make university-issued ID cards an acceptable form of voter ID.

The bills, filed in both the House and Senate by Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin), Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) and Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), would allow students to present a university-issued photo ID as a valid form of  voter ID. 

Watson said his bill, if passed, would make voting more convenient for students.

“Those in control of the Capitol have created unnecessary burdens for folks who don’t already have an acceptable form of ID to vote,” Watson said in an email to the Texan. “This is an easy way to begin removing those burdens.” 

In May, Student Government sent a formal letter in support of student IDs as a valid form of voter ID to the UT System Board of Regents. The System approved the letter as a legislative priority for the University. Chris Jordan, SG chief of staff, authored the letter and said he is excited to see support for this initiative in the legislature. 

“We’re not the first ones to say this is an issue,” Jordan said. “But we’re just glad to get the conversation started.”

In October, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Texas’ voter ID law, which requires voters have a state-issued photo ID to vote. Texas is one of seven states that requires voters to present photo IDs before casting a ballot. Other states request ID but do not require it, and 20 states do not require any ID.

Under the current voter ID law, there are seven acceptable forms of voter ID in Texas, including a Texas driver’s license and a concealed handgun license. Canales said most states that require voter ID also allow student IDs as a form of voter identification.

“Basically, this would be pushing conformity with the other voter ID states,” Canales said.

Israel said expanding voter ID to include student IDs is a secure and efficient way to increase voter turnout among college students. 

“Those who suggest that this is another opportunity for fraud are incorrect,” Israel said. “All the information that we give to the county is double checked, and there has to be a reassurance there, as we move through this process, that this is simply about creating more opportunities to vote.”

History senior Max Patterson, director of SG’s Hook the Vote agency, said the use of student IDs as voter IDs would make voting easier for out-of-state students.

“For out-of-state students, if they don’t get an election ID certificate or aren’t in the process of getting a new drivers license, they have to use their passport, which can be difficult if they don’t already have their passport at UT,” Patterson said.

Canales said he hopes the ability to use university-issued IDs as voter IDs will encourage college students to vote regularly.

“I think that if we do make it readily accessible through their student ID, we definitely are not exasperating the problem,” Canales said. “We are actually creating more avenues for college-age students to vote.”

Cold weather may decrease voter turnout for the House District 50 runoff election between Democrat Celia Israel and Republican Mike VanDeWalle on Tuesday.

After state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, resigned from the House seat in June, a special election was called for November. In the special election, around 60 percent of voters chose one of the three Democratic candidates, while about 40 percent chose VanDeWalle. No candidate received a majority of the votes, so Tuesday’s runoff election will determine the representative. House District 50 consists of parts of North Austin, Pflugerville and areas just west of Bastrop.

University Democrats President David Feigen is a volunteer coordinator for Israel’s campaign. Feigen said he has been working to increase voter turnout, but he is concerned the cold weather will discourage people from voting. 

“Probably our biggest opponent has nothing to do with our opponent and nothing to do with our candidate, but it has a lot to do with the weather,” Feigen said. “It’s an extraneous variable — we don’t know what that will do to people that might think, ‘Oh, she’s got it in the bag. We don’t need to show up.’”

Feigen said he thinks grassroots efforts are especially important in this
election because people may not be informed about the race.

“It’s a January special election where it’s the only race going on,” Feigen said. “Spreading the word and making sure everyone understands how this works is more crucial than ever.”

Daniel Hung, president for College Republicans at Texas, said it is difficult to predict the outcome of the election.

“It’s hard to say because it’s a runoff election, and there’s going to be low turnout,” Hung said. “It’s going to be very cold,
especially tomorrow.”

Feigen said Israel has provided many opportunities for University Democrats to participate in her campaign.

“She showed a belief in us,” Feigen said. “She’s assured University Democrats that we have a friend in the Capitol whose door will always be open to us.”

Feigen said he thinks Israel’s goal to expand the district’s Democratic
electorate is important.

“What was once a 58 percent Democratic district can become more like a 65 percent Democratic district, which doesn’t mean a lot for the person running in that seat, but it means a lot for [a candidate] running statewide,” Feigen said.

Hung said the outcome of the election may signal which political direction Texans will vote in November general elections.

“This district will be a bellwether as to which direction Texas as a whole will blow in 2014,” Hung said. “If VanDeWalle wins, then it would really show that Texas is not moving to the Democratic direction.”

Feigen said he thinks Israel’s previous state government experience will help her reverse cuts to education spending and ensure that teachers’ salaries are more in line with the national average.

According to Hung, many campaign promises may remain unfulfilled in the first few years in office.

“Whoever wins, they’ll be a newly elected state representative,” Hung said. “They’re going to be a freshman in a chamber of 150 legislators, with most of [the legislators] with more seniority than [the newly elected one].”

The November election will include a special ballot for a representative of House District 50, and three of the four candidates campaigning for the spot are UT alumni. 

Mark Strama, former House District 50 representative, held the seat since 2004 but resigned to work on the Google Fiber program in Austin in June. District 50 is an area encompassing parts of northern Austin and eastern Travis County.

The candidates include three Democrats, all of whom are alumni of the University, and one Republican. The Democratic candidates are Celia Israel, Rico Reyes and Jade Chang Sheppard. Mike VanDeWalle is running as a Republican.

Clay Olsen, economic and finance senior and the College Republicans of Texas communications director, said the student organization supports — but has not officially endorsed — VanDeWalle, because his policies will ensure jobs for students.

“Of course there are many stories out about how great Texas is for business,” Olsen said. “This is due to low taxes and light-regulatory policies.”

Olsen said the College Republicans have helped VanDeWalle’s campaign by phone banking and also plan to participate in a block walk for the candidate later this month. 

VanDeWalle said if elected he would focus on decreasing governmental regulations on industries such as real estate, small businesses and health care. 

“I think what we need to do is maybe put some regulations on the regulators so they can’t go off and create laws without any accountability,” VanDeWalle said. “My plan is to go to these different industries … And I want to know what regulations are abusive, which ones are good ones.”

Blake Medley, University Democrats president and government senior, said the student organization endorsed Israel, the only openly-gay candidate.

The organization hosted a debate between Israel and Reyes in September. Medley said Israel appeared more prepared to answer questions about certain initiatives — such as water — and specific committees than Reyes.

“Rico’s a good candidate as well, but there was a stark contrast [at the debate],” Medley said.

Israel said she would work to increase the affordability of college by bringing attention to leaders who are meddling with the University’s administration. 

“I think there [are] political hires that are only harming our flagship universities,” Israel said. “Rick Perry has unfortunately micromanaged what’s been going on in the Board of Regents … And I think he’s overreached his authority as a governor.”

Sheppard, one of the Democratic candidates, said Texas should focus on funding both universities and technical, vocational and community colleges.

“Where a number of students are going to take that four-year degree college track, many can’t,” Sheppard said. “So I think the legislature needs to make affordable higher education priority and look at supporting both options for students.”

Sheppard said she is a young mother with school-aged children, and in the legislature, there is only one other young mother. 

“I think it’s really important for young moms to have their voice in government because we make up a big part of the population in Texas, and we need to have a voice because we’re raising the next generation,” Sheppard said.

Sheppard said she would work to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation in order to help small businesses.

“I think that access to capital and credit and working capital is very important for small businesses,” Sheppard said. “Apple gets great incentives to build a headquarters here in Austin in our district … But if a small business wants to go and build a $3 million headquarters, they often can’t find access to the capital they need to grow.”

Matt Glazer, Reyes’ campaign manager, said Texas should work on keeping doctors in the state.

“We are literally spending tons of taxpayer money to train folks in the medical profession only to ship them to other states to go get a residency, and most people who practice medicine practice for their lifetime within 100 miles of where their residency is,” Glazer said.

Glazer said Reyes’ business and law background, in addition to his background working in the Public Integrity Unit, prepared him for the position.

“If you’re going to write laws, you should probably know and understand laws,” Glazer said. “He’s the only one with an MBA that I know of, and if you’re going to be talking about multi-billion dollar budgets, you should probably understand how to dive into the numbers and extrapolate how things are going to work years out, something that gets lost in the Texas Legislature. UT made both of those things possible.”