Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Can I see your papers, comrade? No, not THOSE papers

Today's candidate for worst-legislation-I've-seen-yet has to be HB 516 by Betty Brown, R-Kaufman, which will be heard in the House Elections Committee today at 2 p.m.

Rep. Brown's legislation would add a new layer of paperwork and bureaucracy to the voter registration process for no other reason than to discourage people from registering.

HB 516 would require county clerks to gather copies of citizenship documentation from everyone who registers to vote.
A Texas driver's license or ID card isn't good enough: If you're a Texan, take your driver's license out and look at it -- it doesn't say if you're a citizen.

That makes the proposed law unworkable for most voters. The most common forms of identification would no longer be adequate to register to vote. The bill says drivers licenses or ID cards issued by the Department of Public Safety could only be used for proof of voter eligibility if they stated whether or not the person had supplied proof of citizenship. Since Texas DPS' drivers licenses and ID cards do not include that information, they could not be used for that purpose. The only documents Texans could use to register to vote would be passports (which most people don't have), birth certificates (photocopies of which are easily forged), or naturalization papers.

I had to locate my own birth certificate recently. It took about 45 minutes of digging around in my files to locate a document I may not have laid eyes on in 15 years. I wonder how many people really have their birth certificate so easy to hand that this bill would cause them no inconvenience?

Voters already are required to supply the pertinent information about citizenship; if they must give a "copy" of records, that requires increased bureaucracy, increased labor, increased taxpayer cost, plus creates the need for long-term storage of what will soon become immense stacks of paper.

Here's the part that turns this into a most-ridiculous-bill candidate: HB 516 would require re-engineering every voter registration form in the state to include an envelope that allows people to send in documentation along with their voter registration card. That's a huge expense, yet the bill carries no fiscal note. That means the costs will be borne by the counties if it is enacted.

Plus there's no records retention policy in the bill. How long must these documents be maintained, who may access them, and for what purpose? The bill is silent on all these questions. County courthouses across the state are already leasing extra space to store records. Even in small towns, one frequently must now go to a separate annex -- many of them seem to be in old Safeway storefronts, curiously -- in order to view real property records and other holdings of the county clerk. This bill gives them more paper to store, paper for which there is no stated use.

Who will ever look at this material, and why? Other means using matching databases are easier for checking citizenship than combing through paper documentation for each individual voter, the same way aggregated lists are matched to purge felons and deceased voters. All the bill really seems to accomplish is to make it more difficult to register to vote.

Finally, another huge oversight: As written, the documents given for proving citizenship would all be open records.
This bill is an identity theft nightmare waiting to happen.

It used to be that Republicans were for small government, less bureaucracy, fiscal conservatism and government efficiency. HB 516, though, is further evidence that today, it's
Big Government Conservatism that's in vogue.

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