Unfair Disparities in Voter ID

September 13, 2011

The Accessibility of Texas Driver's License Office Locations

On May 27, 2011, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law Senate Bill 14, which requires that voters show photo identification at the polls in order to cast a ballot. Only the following forms of ID are acceptable for purposes of voting: 

  • Texas driver’s license;
  • Personal identification card issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety and featuring the voter’s photograph;
  • Election identification certificate (a new form of state photo identification created by the legislation);
  • U.S. military identification card featuring the voter’s photograph;
  • U.S. citizenship certificate featuring the voter’s photograph;
  • U.S. passport; or
  • Concealed handgun permit issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

To obtain an election identification certificate, personal identification card, or driver’s license, individuals must travel to a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) office. Texas DPS runs the state's Driver License Offices (DLOs). If the forms of identification mentioned above are obtainable at a DLO location, then assessing whether minorities must travel longer distances to reach their nearest DLO location is relevant to understanding the effect of Texas’ voter ID law. My analysis shows that Latino voters in Texas must travel farther than white voters to reach their nearest DLO.  

Texas DLO locations are available on the DPS website; I use that information to construct a shapefile (viewable in ArcGIS) with all active DLO locations. Then, using Census 2010 population data by block group, I determine how many Texans live in Census block groups that are in their entirety more than 10 miles away from their nearest DLO location. 

The analysis reveals that nearly one million African-American and Latino voting-age citizens would have to travel more than 10 miles in order to reach the closest DLO to their home. In particular, Latino citizens are more likely to have to travel this distance in order to reach their nearest DLO: Latinos constitute 35.2% of the citizen voting-age population more than 10 miles from the nearest DLO, but just 33.2% of the citizen voting-age population in the rest of the state.

The disparity is even greater when assessing the number of Texas citizens who must travel 20 miles or more to the nearest DLO. The citizen voting-age population living more than 20 miles from the nearest DLO is 60.7% Hispanic. The citizen voting-age population in the rest of the state? Just 32.7% Hispanic. Hispanics are dramatically overrepresented in areas of Texas that are far from DLO locations: the relative concentration of voting-age Hispanic citizens in these areas is 85.6% greater than in the rest of Texas, while the relative concentration of voting-age white citizens is 34.3% less than in the rest of Texas.

These facts undermine the accessibility and effectiveness of Texas’ “free” election identification certificate. Indeed, voting-eligible Latino citizens face the added burden of traveling farther than others to obtain the identification deemed acceptable by Texas Senate Bill 14.