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Commissioner Says Dallas County Shouldn't Spend More Money To Update Voter Records

Erik Hersman
(cc) flickr

Dallas County Commissioners are discussing whether to pony up more money to reach voters whose photo IDs don’t match their elections records.

The Democratic county judge says it’s an effort to make sure everyone who’s registered gets to vote, but the commission’s lone Republican thinks there’s another reason.

Last November was the first test of Texas’ new voter ID law, and in Dallas County one in five had to sign affidavits before they could cast ballots.  They had to swear to their identities because the names on their photo ID’s didn’t exactly match their names on the county’s registration list.

Election officials believe at least 195,000 registered voters in Dallas County have name discrepancies that will delay their voting in March and November.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is calling for spending $165,000 on a campaign that will urge voters to update their records.

“We want to send every person whose name does not match mail communications including return postage to easily fix their problem before they get  to the polling place,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins says photo ID discrepancies last fall were minimal because it was such a low turnout election.  He worries that heavier turnout expected in March and November will lead to gridlock if a lot of voters take extra time to fill out forms.

“They can take two to five minutes to complete and that has a tendency to create long back up lines at the polling places.  And people who have fixed amount of time they can be away from work to vote may not have time to vote,” Jenkins said.   

But the county’s lone Republican commissioner, Mike Cantrell, believes this second mailing would be a waste of money.

Commissioners spent $79,000 on a first mailing two weeks ago and only eight percent have responded and updated their records.

“This is the Washington mentality. If it doesn’t work the first time, kind of like the stimulus, keep throwing money at it and it will correct it.  Well these are taxpayer dollars, not the judge’s dollars,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell also questions the motive behind the mailings.  Dallas County,  at Jenkins urging, joined a lawsuit backed by Democrats that calls for throwing out the state’s voter ID law.  Cantrell says Jenkins may be trying to create evidence that would show the law is costing the county money.

“If you look at the November election, there was not a single person who was not allowed to vote because of that issue. So he’s trying to enflame the issue and make an issue for the lawsuit he’s filed on behalf of Dallas County in Corpus Christie,” Cantrell charged.

Jenkins says that’s not what’s going on.  He’s just trying to prevent a train wreck at the polling places before it happens.

(Update, 12:30 p.m. Tuesday: The commissioners court discussed the matter Tuesday. Commissioners won't vote on the allocation until at least next week, The Dallas Morning News reports.Four of five commissioners appear to be in support.)

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.