A New Texas Two-Step: One Forward, Two Back

Consensus among Texan legislators

on election issues is becoming - stated generously - vanishingly

rare. In 2007, a firestorm over voter ID proposals grew so acrimonious

that a State Senator rallied to block proposed legislation, despite

the fact that he was recovering

from a liver transplant

and needed a hospital bed to be kept about 100 feet from the Senate

floor. Two years later, sparring over a new proposal drove marathon

hearings running for 23

hours straight.

This general climate makes H.B. 1457 nothing short of a wonder. It

passed the State House 144-1. It passed the State Senate 31-0. Bipartisan, near-unanimous

support - until it was shot

down last week

by Governor "Rick" Perry's veto. Its demise is a shame, for

Texans of all stripes.

The bill was a common-sense

attempt to address administrative flaws that cost Texan election officials

time, Texan taxpayers money, and Texan citizens the right to vote.

The federal Help America Vote Act asks each state to try to match the information on new voter registration

forms to data in the motor vehicles or Social Security systems.

Under the federal law, when the system can't find a match, voters

who mailed in their forms are flagged, and have

to show ID before

they vote. Texas

went a bit farther,

requiring every new voter with a failed match (whether registering by

mail or not) to show ID, after required correspondence back and forth.

The biggest problem with the

system is that the matching system isn't very sophisticated, and simple mistakes

or inconsistenciescause the match

to fail.

A lot. When a data entry temp hits the wrong key, the match can

fail. When a voter has a compound name, like "Mary Ann Smith"

or "Linus van Pelt," the match can fail. When a voter uses

a nickname, like "Bill," or a middle name, like "F. Scott,"

the match can fail. The

motor vehicles match does better than

the Social Security version,

and some clerks catch mistakes more often than others. Still,

the matching problems add up. In 2008, the match failed, nationwide,

about 30%

of the time.

Most of these common matching

errors have nothing whatsoever to do with the eligibility of the person

trying to register. But the errors do take time to resolve, and

cause hassles for both county clerks and voters. So Rep. Scott Hochberg, an engineer who understands both

the capacity and the limits of technology, tried to reduce the impact

of the mistakes. His

bill asked the

Secretary of State to come up with reasonable standards for deciding

when the name submitted by a local registrar was actually the same person

on motor vehicle records, and for sending mismatched information back

to registrars to help them resolve discrepancies. It also asked

the registrar to give rejected applicants as much information as possible,

to help them resolve problems. Simple, common-sense stuff

- which explains why 99.4% of legislators agreed.

Gov. Perry, unfortunately,

thought differently. His primary excuse for the veto was that a slight mismatch

"is a strong indication that the application was filled out by someone

other than the rightful voter."

"Rick," of all people,

should know better.

Never mind logic, which points

in exactly the other direction. Attempted fraudsters - many of whom

copy phone book records in

order to get paid

for registration canvassing they don't actually do - have no idea

what a particular voter's driver's license number is, and don't

come close when they scribble something random down. Slight and

readily identifiable mistakes in a name or birthday, on the other hand,

are a "strong indication" that someone hit the wrong key when typing.

Like when Gov. Perry discussed "indentifying" information in his veto message.

The logical assumption is that Gov. Perry's clerical assistant screwed

up - not that some fraudster faked the veto.

And never mind facts, which

point in exactly the other direction. In two federalcases now, the overwhelming evidence has

been that, as one election official recognized, "Most times the [voter's

registration] record is unable to be verified because of a data entry

error at the time of input (i.e., misspelled names and number transpositions)."

No, Gov. Perry should have

recognized that mismatches don't usually indicate fraud, because his

own registration application would likely have been mismatched.

See, "Rick" Perry is actually "James

Richard" Perry.

And though I don't know what name Gov. Perry uses on his driver's

license, his Social Security Administration records almost certainly

reflect the name he was first given.

175 of 176 Texas legislators

thought that their Secretary of State should be able to issue common-sense

rules to decide when it's sufficiently clear that Rick Perry is actually

James Richard Perry. It is a real shame for Texans that James

Richard disagreed.