Martha T. Moore, USA TODAY
Some states that have tightened their voter identification laws are using workarounds to avoid voting problems for women whose names have changed because of marriage or divorce - even as opponents of the laws warn there is still potential to disqualify female voters.
Voter ID laws are intensely controversial: the Justice Department is currently suing Texas and North Carolina to block their new, stricter laws, and lawsuits in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have also prevented voter ID laws from being implemented. Legislators supporting voter ID laws say they are necessary to prevent voter fraud; opponents say laws requiring certain types of identification disproportionately affect minorities and the poor.
They may also create problems for women who have changed their names after marriage or divorce, advocates say.
For example, Texas now requires a voter to show photo identification. If the name on the ID doesn't match the name on voter rolls - for instance, if a woman's name has changed because of marriage or divorce - the voter must sign an affidavit on the poll sheet asserting he or she is the same person.
One of those voters was state Sen. Wendy Davis, who gained national prominence in June for an 11-hour filibuster against a law restricting abortion. Davis, a Democrat who is now running for governor, opposed the voter ID law but got the affidavit procedure added as an amendment. On Monday, during the state's early voting, Davis had to sign an affidavit while voting because her driver's license includes her maiden name while her voter registration does not.
"It was a simple procedure," Davis told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I signed the affidavit and was able to vote with no problem." But she said she worries that other women in Texas may be "surprised" by the requirement.
The law doesn't apply only to women: Davis' likely opponent in the 2014 governor's race, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, says he will have to sign the affidavit also since the name on his driver's license is Gregory Wayne Abbott, but he is registered to vote as Greg Abbott. Abbott supports the photo ID requirements as a way to protect the integrity of elections. "Voter fraud is real. It must be stopped, and voter IDs are one way to stop voter fraud,'' he said in an August radio interview. "There is absolutely no evidence that someone will not be able to vote because of this requirement.''
But female voters are more likely to be affected since they may change their name when they marry or divorce but don't necessarily update a driver's license or voter registration.
Julie Ebenstein, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, says the laws are wrong because they penalize voters who don't have the required ID. "Now we're talking about an additional group (of voters) that doesn't have a matching ID. I feel the states often understate the burden this has on voters.''
Signing an affidavit is "not just making a doodle on a piece of paper,'' Ebenstein says. "You're asking someone to do something in order to vote that voters should not have to do - and for the most part male voters will not have to do.''
In other states with strict voter ID laws, election officials say they have procedures to allow voters with mismatched names to cast ballots.
• In Indiana, voters can edit their name on the poll list to conform to their current name, says Brad King, co-director of the state elections division. "It's been our procedure for decades.''
• In Tennessee, voters with a name mismatch can update their voter registration at the poll before voting a regular ballot, says Blake Fontenay, elections spokesman. "If they go to the polls and their names are different, then the poll workers know what to do.'' The state's voter ID law is being challenged in a lawsuit by the state's Green Party.
• In Georgia, voters with a name mismatch can vote but must update their voter registration and check off an affidavit that the new name is legal, says Jared Thomas, elections spokesman. A woman who has changed her name "is not going to have any hardship voting'' other than the "extra step'' to update the registration and to swear to her identity, Thomas says.
• In Kansas, the state's voter ID law requires that voters whose ID and registration aren't "consistent" cast provisional ballots after updating their voter registration. Provisional ballots are counted only if the county canvassing board chooses to include them. But Brad Bryant, state election director, says voters with a mismatch can decline to update their registration and vote a regular ballot anyway, but "they're going to have the situation recur at every election.''
Kansas leaves it to the poll worker to decide if the two names are "consistent,'' Bryant says.
That is where problems arise, says Justin Levitt, an election law expert at Loyola Law School. "When you have these extra steps, you're depending on the poll worker getting it right.'' The problem: "Poll-worker training and poll-worker competence is widely variable, to be generous."
In Texas, for instance, if a poll worker determines that the two names are not "substantially similar,'' the voter must provide proof of a name change, which may mean producing a marriage certificate or divorce decree.
"Your view of 'substantially similar' and mine may be two different things,'' says Estelle Rogers, legislative director of Project Vote, which opposes voter ID laws.
Women with name changes are more likely "collateral damage'' from strict voter ID laws than a target of them, Rogers says. "I think women have been a sort of collateral damage. And I'm not sure we know the extent of the damage yet.''