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Texas Elections Official: Don’t Disenfranchise Voters If Their Name Doesn’t Exactly Match Their ID

By Ian Millhiser

"Texas Elections Official: Don’t Disenfranchise Voters If Their Name Doesn’t Exactly Match Their ID"

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In the wake of an incident where a poll worker questioned a Texas judge’s ability to vote because the name on her driver’s license did not exactly match the name on the state’s voter rolls — one listed her maiden name as her middle name, while the other listed her given middle name — Texas Secretary of State John Steen (R) issued a statement explaining that people like Judge Sandra Watts should not be turned away at the polls. “As long as the names are substantially similar,” according to Secretary Steen’s statement, “all a voter will have to do is initial to affirm he or she is the same person who is registered.” He also claimed that “[p]oll workers have been trained to account for names that might be substantially similar but not an exact match due to a number of circumstances including the use of nicknames, suffixes, and changes of name due to marriage or divorce.”

Although this statement may provide a workable solution for voters in Judge Watts’ position — where there’s a relatively minor discrepancy between the name on their ID and the name in the voter register — it is unlikely to completely solve the problem of women being turned away from the polls because their married name is different than their name at birth. Indeed, a woman’s ability to cast a ballot may depend upon arbitrary distinctions such as whether they kept their maiden name as a element of their name after marriage. The name “Michelle Robinson” is probably substantially similar to the name “Michelle Robinson Obama,” but it’s tough to argue that “Michelle Obama” is substantially similar to “Michelle Robinson.”

As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick notes, it’s not clear whether the Texas voter ID’s laws impact on married women will help or hurt Texas Republicans. Though women as a class tend to prefer Democrats to Republicans, “women who change their names may tend to skew more conservative than women who don’t.” Ultimately, however the question of whether this law succeeds in keeping predominantly progressive women from the polls should be irrelevant to the question of whether it should remain on the books. Republican women have as much a right to vote as any other American citizen.

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