Silver Lining for Democrats in Texas Voter ID Woes

(Jeremy Portje/Telegraph Herald/AP Photo)

Texas' voter ID laws took effect this week in local elections, but there's one silver lining for Democrats: the impact is being felt a full year before it matters in national and statewide elections.

Texas' photo ID measure has been challenged by the Justice Department, which says it discriminates against minorities and low-income voters. But the impact on women, who may have trouble proving their identity because their names changed due to marriage, has been the latest headline-grabbing side effect.

Democrats hope these stories will help build public opposition to voter ID measures in states like Texas, North Carolina and Pennsylvania a full year before it matters in critical congressional and gubernatorial races.

"We are seeing now, thank goodness a year ahead of time of the November 2014 elections, just exactly what the consequences are," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood and a native Texan, told a small group of reporters this morning.

"I do think that all of the lifting up of these stories are really important because they're a chance for these legislatures to do the right thing," she added.

Democrats have for years warned about these laws may disenfranchise many minorities and young people. Now, they have what they consider to be damning evidence that the laws aren't intended, as its authors say, to prevent voter fraud.

The story was brought to life when a Texas judge, Sandra Watts, told a local station that for the first time in 52 years, she couldn't use the registration and ID she has always used to vote because of a discrepancy between her maiden and married names.

"This is the first time I have ever had a problem voting," Watts told KIII-TV.

Politically, the story fits neatly into the Democrats' narrative that the GOP is waging a "war on women" on multiple fronts.

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who uses both her maiden and married names in public life, noted that if Florida officials upheld the letter of her state's voter ID laws, she also might be barred from voting.

"My own picture ID does not match my voter registration. My driver's license has my legal name which is Deborah Schultz and my voter registration is Debbie Wasserman Schultz," she said.

For Texas Democrats, the voter ID issue is particularly troubling because they already face an uphill battle trying to get state Sen. Wendy Davis elected as the first Democratic governor since Ann Richards left the Governor's Mansion in 1995.

Davis' gubernatorial campaign stands to lose significantly from barriers to voting for women, in part because her candidacy was borne out of her efforts to block an anti-abortion bill in the state legislature with an 11-hour filibuster in June.

Though it's a long shot to think that Republican state legislatures would reverse course on the issue of voter IDs, there's one reason they might.

Women voters favored President Obama over the Republican presidential candidate in the last two elections, according to Gallup, and that's not a situation Republicans anywhere want to make a permanent feature of the electorate.

Wasserman Schultz made it clear that Democrats plan to use this situation in their ongoing efforts to keep women in the Democratic column for as long as possible.

She announced today that the DNC would establish a permanent campaign-style apparatus to engage women voters and recruit activists and candidates. That initiative, the Democratic Women's Alliance, would take on voter education as a top priority.

"We're going to be able to make sure that we target and motivate and mobilize women on issues like when there are obstacles thrown in their path by Republicans who want to deny their access to the ballot box, and be able to use that vehicle to mobilize more women to get out and vote and bring more women into the electoral process," Wasserman Schultz said.