In a state where everything is big, the 23rd Congressional District that hugs the border with Mexico is a monster: eight and a half hours by car across a stretch of land bigger than any state east of the Mississippi. In 2014, Representative Pete Gallego logged more than 70,000 miles there in his white Chevy Tahoe, campaigning for re-election to the House -- and lost by a bare 2,422 votes.Well, that's good, because, as it turns out, voters need to be reminded of what sorts of ID they need to vote -- ID they may not realize they actually have:
So in his bid this year to retake the seat, Mr. Gallego, a Democrat, has made a crucial adjustment to his strategy. “We’re asking people if they have a driver’s license,” he said. “We’re having those basic conversations about IDs at the front end, right at our first meeting with voters.”
... a study of the Texas ID requirement by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy released in August found that many more qualified voters, confused or intimidated by the new rules, have not tried to vote at all.So people who could have voted for Gallego didn't vote -- or, to put it another way, Gallego lost votes because people who would have voted for him didn't know they could vote, and the Gallego campaign didn't help voters figure that out.
“What voters hear is that you need to have an ID,” said Mark P. Jones of the Baker Institute, an author of the study. “But they don’t get the second part that says if you have one of these types of IDs, you’re O.K.”
... After Mr. Gallego’s narrow loss in 2014, researchers from the Baker Institute and the University of Houston’s Hobby Center for Public Policy polled 400 registered voters in the district who sat out the election. All were asked why they did not vote, rating on a scale of 1 to 5 from a list of seven explanations -- being ill, having transportation problems, being too busy, being out of town, lacking interest, disliking the candidates and lacking a required photo identification.
Nearly 26 percent said the main reason was that they were too busy. At the other end, 5.8 percent said the main reason was lacking a proper photo ID, with another 7 percent citing it as one reason. Most surprising, however, was what researchers found when they double-checked that response: The vast majority of those who claimed not to have voted because they lacked a proper ID actually possessed one, but did not know it.
Moreover, Dr. Jones of the Baker Institute said, “The confused voters said they would have voted overwhelmingly for Gallego.”
The Republican backers of these laws know they're sowing confusion; as far as they're concerned, that's a feature, not a bug.
But what was wrong with the Gallego campaign that it didn't understand that this was a problem until after the 2014 loss? The Texas law, after all, went into effect in 2013. Its provisions were known to the campaign -- right?
I don't want to blame just the Gallego campaign. What was wrong with the Democratic Party? Why isn't word going out to every candidate in a voter ID state that it's important to educate voters about these laws? Why can't the party fight the laws and work hard to make sure voters aren't deterred from voting, especially if all that's preventing them from voting is a misunderstanding of the requirements?
It's political malpractice to lose seats because of these laws and then say, "Duh! We could have made an effort to educate voters!" Get it right the first time.