MARIA HINOJOSA, HOST:
Now, we move to the state of Texas and the issue of voter I.D.s. This week, a federal panel is hearing arguments about whether a Texas law requiring people to bring I.D. to the ballot box should stand, or be tossed out. The law was blocked by the Justice Department earlier this year and now Texas is suing to overturn that ruling.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder was in Texas and he spoke out against the law at the NAACP convention in Houston. He says it amounts to a modern age poll tax.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: In our efforts to protect voting rights and to prevent voting fraud, we will be vigilant and we will be strong, but let me be clear. Let me be very clear. We will not allow political pretext to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious right.
HINOJOSA: Joining us now to talk more about this is state representative, Jose Aliseda. He's a Republican from South Texas who testified this week at the federal court hearing and he joins us now in our Washington, D.C. studios.
REPRESENTATIVE JOSE ALISEDA: Hello.
HINOJOSA: So we just heard the clip from Attorney General Eric Holder, who said that all of this is politically motivated. What's your response to that?
ALISEDA: Voter I.D. laws are being passed all around the country. The Supreme Court's already said they're legal, in Indiana, specifically, I think it's a commonsense solution to what the public perceives as a problem.
ALISEDA: Yes. They do.
HINOJOSA: But most people would think that, if you are a law breaker, let's say, or if you're in this country without papers, that the last thing you're going to do is want to call attention to yourself by going and voting and it's - I mean, the worry is most often that people aren't going to the polls, that the turnout is low. And you're saying now all of these people without papers are actually running into the voting booth?
ALISEDA: I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying the public perceives that as a problem. We often pass laws in this country because of perception of a problem. In order to give our electoral system a modicum of the appearance of security, voter I.D. is a reasonable commonsense solution to do that.
HINOJOSA: So, Representative Aliseda, you were born in Mexico. Opponents of this law, like the attorney general, say it will disproportionately affect voters who are Latinos. Are you worried that the law could, in fact, disenfranchise Latinos, immigrants, other people of color?
ALISEDA: How is that? If you can't afford an identification card, it's provided to you for free. I come from a country that requires not only a photo I.D., but a biometric photo I.D., to vote. And by - I mean biometric. It has a fingerprint and, when you vote, you have to dip your finger in a vat of ink to show that you're not voting yet more than once.
People need to have confidence in the system or they won't participate.
HINOJOSA: So you're actually saying that the reason why people choose not to vote is because they don't have confidence in the voting rules?
ALISEDA: I've had people tell me that. Yes, that's correct. They do not have confidence in the system. They take the position, why vote if my vote's going to be cancelled out by a fraudulent vote? This is the age of ACORN, where we've got people like Mickey Mouse or the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders being registered to vote. I'm not saying that they're voting, but people hear these reports all the time and they perceive that there's a problem.
They go to the movie store. They have to show an I.D. to rent a movie. Why is it that we can't expect something as fundamental as voting to have some kind of modicum of security as showing a photo identification card?
HINOJOSA: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Maria Hinojosa and we're talking about the Texas voter I.D. law that's being weighed in federal court this week. Our guest is Representative Jose Aliseda, a Republican from Texas who testified at the hearing.
So you keep on talking about people's perceptions, but in fact, how often is this happening? I mean, we have the world's greatest democracy and about less than half of the people actually go and vote. So, beyond the perception of the problem, how often is this actually happening that you've been able to document in your state of Texas?
ALISEDA: All right. This is part of the problem in that we had no way to document it up until this most recent election, which was after we had enacted this legislation. It turns out that our secretary of state testified at this hearing that we had over 300 dead people vote in our election this past primary in May.
HINOJOSA: And how did you find that out?
ALISEDA: Because they now have a way to match the votes statewide with the voter rolls.
HINOJOSA: But that's 300 out of thousands upon thousands upon thousands?
ALISEDA: I answer your question with another question. Why did I have to show an I.D. to come into this building this morning? What is the likelihood that I was a terrorist, that I was going to do something, some harm to this station? The reality is one bad vote cancels out somebody else's good vote and I think that a fundamental right is worth protecting.
HINOJOSA: But, if you're poor, let's just say - and I've reported some of this in other places - and if you're poor and you don't drive, you know, the whole idea of trying to get someplace to get your I.D., having to take your birth certificate to prove that you deserve that I.D., it is a burden, maybe not for you or for me when we're coming out of buildings in Washington, D.C. or New York City, but for the poor. What do you say to them when they're like, look. Now you're going to make me do this and I'm going to have to travel. Who's going to drive me? It's going to cost me. You know what? I just won't vote.
ALISEDA: Those are spurious arguments. I live in a very rural area. The nearest big city is Corpus Christi, which is about 60 miles away. That's where the Social Security Administration building is. We have a rural transportation system that is funded primarily through the federal government. It costs an individual - at least it did when I was county judge at Bee County - a dollar to go to Corpus Christi. That's a spurious argument.
Any right that a person chooses to exercise requires some responsibility on the part of the voter. Just think about this: It is a fundamental right for me to protest my government. I have to go get a permit to protest my government if I want to do that. Fundamental rights require some kind of protection. They also require some kind of responsibility on my part.
HINOJOSA: Representative, under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the state of Texas must get Justice Department approval for any voting law changes because of a history of discrimination in the state of Texas. So your state now has the burden of proving that this voter I.D. law is not discriminatory. Can you, in fact, prove that?
ALISEDA: I think so.
ALISEDA: We're doing that right now. That's why we're in the middle of this trial. And my answer to that is, how can Texas not have the same law as Indiana already has? It is against the Constitution for one state to be able to pass a law that another state can't have. Otherwise, there's not equal protection under the law.
HINOJOSA: So what will you do if, in fact, the federal court strikes down this Texas law?
ALISEDA: We will take it to the Supreme Court.
HINOJOSA: You'll immediately start...
ALISEDA: I think we're entitled to an immediate appeal from their decision. Yes.
HINOJOSA: OK. Jose Aliseda is a Republican state representative from the state of Texas. Thank you so much for joining me in the studios...
ALISEDA: Thank you.
HINOJOSA: ...here in Washington, D.C.
ALISEDA: I enjoyed it.
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HINOJOSA: Up next, looking for thrills at the movies this weekend? Sigourney Weaver investigates reports of paranormal activity in the film "Red Lights," and Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes says to forget what you think you know.
RODRIGO CORTES: Every theory actually is possible.
HINOJOSA: The filmmaker talks about the twists and turns in his new movie, "Red Lights." That's next on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Maria Hinojosa.
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HINOJOSA: D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is the latest politician to get into hot water, but is Gray under scrutiny because he's corrupt or because he's African-American?
DEREK MUSGROVE: Black elected officials during the post-civil rights period are disproportionately investigated.
HINOJOSA: Author Derek Musgrove on his new book, "Rumor, Repression and Racial Politics." That's next time on TELL ME MORE.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.