Dear Texas Democrats: Don’t Blame All of 2014 On Voter ID

Given how badly Texas Democrats lost last week, few are surprised to see a lot of in-fighting and finger-pointing within party leadership.  As has already been addressed, there were some notable missteps on the part of Battleground Texas, which the group, to its credit, is actively working to address.

But in recent days, a new whipping boy has emerged for the 2014 failures… Texas’ discriminatory Voter ID law.  Here’s more on the argument from Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune

Say this for the state’s new voter ID law — it gave Texas Democrats a patsy for the thumping they took on election night.

[…]

The overall number of votes cast in this year’s election was less than in 2010 — by about 271,000. Although that appears to be part of a national trend, Texas Democrats blamed the state’s voter ID law, which they say discourages people from showing up.

Texas turnout, already the worst in the country, dropped. The state’s population is larger than it was in 2010. More than 14 million Texans registered to vote, according to the secretary of state — up from 13.3 million in 2010. Turnout that year was 37.5 percent. Turnout this year (the numbers are unofficial) was 33.6 percent.

The people who did not show up appear to be Democrats. The Republican numbers were up in the governor’s race, while the Democratic numbers were way down.

At a post-election discussion last week, Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, suggested the voter ID law might be to blame for the decline, implying that Democrats are more numerous among non-voters than Republicans. His opposite on the Republican side — Steve Munisteri — guffawed at that, instead crediting his own party’s turnout efforts, the state’s recent voting history and the national trend against Democrats.

There’s no doubt that the stringent Voter ID law was a contributing factor for Democrats… possibly a significant one.  As Think Progress reported, poll watchers in Houston did see some issues, and the number of Provisional Ballots cast more than doubled from 2010. Because of Voter ID, it is definitely more difficult to vote in Texas than it used to be.

But the party and related organizations need to be careful not to point the finger exclusively at the law, else they risk losing the opportunity for a thorough examination of other factors, including their own culpability.  If all 600,000 of those voters estimated to be disenfranchised had shown up to the polls, wouldn’t we have way more than 16,000 Provisional Ballots cast? Press outlets would have reported on long lines of frustrated voters being turned away.  Had Voter ID been the sole reason that Democrats stayed home, evidence would bear that out.

Instead, many of the Democrats didn’t make it to the polling place at all.  We already know that most Texans are low-propensity and low-information voters.  Getting them to suddenly turn up attention before the election, and then turn out to vote was always going to be a greater burden for Dems than the habitual voters of the GOP.  Then there are the more subtle tricks, like Abbott’s last-minute decision to cancel on his debate commitment with Davis just so he could weasel out of mainline TV coverage for less-noticed PBS.  And of course, the internal friction between the party and other political organizations didn’t help either.

At the end of the day, all of these factors played a supporting role in the issues of 2014.  But let’s hope that Texas Democrats do not try to cast any single one, like Voter ID, as the only star of the show.  Instead, it’s time to live, learn, examine and focus on the battles ahead in the 2015 Texas Legislature.  Dos Centavos has more on what promises to be a long ride.

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