AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republican state officials downplayed the impact of Texas' new voter ID law on Monday, pointing to a nearly twofold increase in recent voter turnout as a response to critics who say the mandate causes problems and possibly disenfranchisement.
Democrats and opponents of the disputed photo identification measure — which was delayed a year until the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law this summer — continued to insist the potential for turned-away and confused voters was a real possibility in Tuesday's election.
Texas residents will vote on nine proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution, and headlining the ballot is a drought-fighting plan that would take $2 billion from the state's Rainy Day Fund to accelerate new water projects statewide.
Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott said opponents of the voter ID law had "run out of claims" about alleged hardships.
"I haven't ever seen anything that was overhyped as much as some partisan efforts to overhype concerns about this, when in reality, there has been no problems whatsoever," Abbott said.
Most of the attention surrounding the law's rollout is about affidavits some voters are being required to sign at polling places, offered when there's even the slightest variation between a name on an official ID and how it appears on voter rolls.
Abbott, who is running to replace Gov. Rick Perry in 2014 and defended in court the voter law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011, said he signed an affidavit when he voted Thursday and dismissed it as no big deal.
Early voting has nearly doubled from 2011, the last off-year elections in Texas, according to state officials. More than 317,000 people have already voted in the state's 15 largest counties, up from 168,000 two years ago, Secretary of State John Steen said.
Steen said the attention surrounding the rollout of the ID law might be driving more voters to the polls.
Democrats have worried that some voters will be entirely unable to vote. The latest big name to join that chorus is former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright, who said this weekend he was denied a state ID card. Wright, 90, said an expired driver's license and a university faculty ID card were not enough to get a state ID from the Texas Department of Public Safety.
By Monday, Wright said the problem was resolved but expressed concern about the "nuisance." He also questioned the conservative presumption that voters are trying to defraud the system.
"It's unfortunate ... that we look for ways to disqualify people," Wright said.
Democratic activists also accused state officials of politicizing enforcement of the voter ID law after a rural county Democratic Party chairwoman filed a grievance with Steen's office. Nelda Couch Calhoun said she was asked to sign an affidavit because her maiden name wasn't on the voter rolls.
Her formal complaint drew a written response from Keith Ingram, the state's elections director, who pointed out that Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis was responsible for an amendment that included the affidavit provision.
Davis, who is running for governor, has defended the unanimously passed amendment as a voter safeguard. Ingram wrote that his office regretted "any inconvenience that this portion of the law has caused voters."
Matt Angle, a Davis adviser and director of the pro-Democratic group the Lone Star Project, called the tone of the letter "overtly political and partisan" for a state official.
Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for Steen's office, said the language was "is in no way a political statement but meant simply as an acknowledgement of the voter's feelings."
Merchant reported from Dallas. Associated Press writer Will Weissert in Austin contributed to this report.
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