The Texas House has approved a bill requiring residents to show photo identification before voting amid complaints from Democrats who say it's designed to erect hurdles for poor and minority voters.
The legislation cleared the House 101-48 Wednesday night after more than 11 hours of debate in which Democrats repeatedly tried to derail it.
The measure has sparked anger and partisan bickering ever since Republican Gov. Rick Perry put it on the fast track at the beginning of the legislative session in January. GOP lawmakers say it's necessary to prevent voter fraud. Democrats contend the bill is aimed at poor and minority voters who are less likely to have state-issued identification cards.
Republican lawmakers in several other states are pushing similar legislation this year.
The Texas bill faces a final, perfunctory hurdle in the House. A similar bill passed the Senate, but it faces another vote in that chamber.
Republican Rep. Jose Aliseda, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Mexico, said the bill "just makes common sense" and that electoral shenanigans are real in the South Texas district he represents.
"Americans expect it. Americans want it," he said. "They want to believe their voting system is at least as safe as renting a movie at Blockbuster."
Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said the bill would undermine the civil rights that minorities gained after years of voter suppression.
"People are willing to turn back the clock ... just so they can win close elections," Veasey said. "If you don't have these forms of identification, your vote is going to be thrown in the garbage."
The legislation, as currently drafted, would require voters to present a valid form of state or federally issued photo identification. A driver's license, personal ID card, military ID, passport or concealed handgun permit would be accepted. Voters who don't have an ID could get one for free from the Texas Department of Public Safety. Voters who could prove they had been victims of identify fraud could would be exempt from the new rules.
Voters without ID could cast a provisional ballot but would have to show one within six days to have their vote counted.
The bill had contained an exemption for elderly voters, but the House stripped it out during deliberations Wednesday.
Democrats had knocked the bill off the floor Monday and they kept raising more parliamentary challenges Wednesday -- to no avail. Then they attempted to soften the bill with amendments adding new forms of ID, such as student identification and employer credentials, but nearly all went down on mostly party-line votes. They slogged through more than 60 amendments, with only a few minor tweaks adopted. Applause broke out when the last amendment came up for debate at about 10:15 p.m. CDT. Closing statements took another hour.
Republicans have been working to pass the voter ID legislation for several years, and Democrats have been fighting it ferociously.
A similar version of the bill has already passed the Senate, and the legislation is deemed likely to get approval during the 2011 session after being shot down during high-intensity debates in recent years. Rep. Dennis Bonnen, the Houston-area Republican who chairs the committee that approved the House version of the bill, said he didn't understand why it had become a partisan issue.
"I have Democrats, Republicans and independents in my district who think people ought to show ID before being allowed to vote," Bonnen said.
At least eight U.S. states have strict photo ID requirements, according to a late 2010 study by the National Conference of State Legislatures. After Republicans picked up strength in the 2010 elections, photo ID bills are working their way through various state legislatures this year, including in Arkansas, Kansas and North Carolina. GOP sponsors say the Texas legislation is modeled after similar laws in Georgia and Indiana.