In discussing the news this week that federal judges rejected the Texas voter ID law, I noted a fact from the Houston Chronicle‘s report: “nearly 80″ Texas counties have no Department of Public Safety drivers’ license office. I found this astonishing and troubling. What I didn’t realize was that it’s also misleading.
Spurred on by a commenter, I checked that number against the offices on the DPS website. Only 14 counties are listed as having no driver’s license office at all, though there are 12 other counties with offices open only one day a week, and far more than that open only 2-3 days a week. The disparity with the Chronicle report may come from the fact that many counties have state driver’s license services housed within a county or city office, not strictly speaking in a DPS-operated building.
I am obviously now less astonished and troubled than I was when writing that earlier post.
Below is a list of the 14 counties without offices, their populations, their percentages of non-Hispanic white population (the remaining percentage therefore indicating the number of racial minorities), and percentages of those living below the poverty line. Remember that the judges’ objection to the voter ID law is largely based on its disproportionate effect on minorities and the poor. All these numbers come from 2011 U.S. Census estimates.
|County||Pop.||Non-Hispanic Whites||Living in Poverty|
For reference, Dallas County has about 1.4 million people, 32.8% non-Hispanic white, and 17.6% living in poverty.
The obvious outlier on the above list is Potter County, with by far the largest population: 122,285. Amarillo is the Potter County seat, and its inclusion here only comes on a technicality, since a portion of Amarillo sits in the adjacent Randall County and that’s where the DPS office just happens to be.
Still, since that is the only DPS office in the entirety of those two counties, it’s debatable whether we should consider 14, or only 13, counties with reasonable driver’s license access. I think 13 may be more accurate. Â Or, actually, 25 counties, since to many people an office that’s open only one day a week is just about as useful as an office that’s not open at all.
We can (and in the comments to the earlier post we certainly have) argue what constitutes reasonable access, but I’m satisfied that it’s not quite as bad as I thought it was the other day. Â Though still bad enough that I don’t understand the drive behind an ID law (which all sides acknowledge will reduce the number of voters casting ballots) without evidence of significant voter impersonation fraud.
Make getting a photo ID nearly as easy and inexpensive as getting registered to vote is now, however, and I’ll be all for it.