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Voter ID law snags former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright

FORT WORTH, Texas Former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright was denied a voter ID card Saturday at a Texas Department of Public Safety office.

"Nobody was ugly to us, but they insisted that they wouldn't give me an ID," Wright said.

The legendary Texas political figure says that he has worked things out with DPS and that he will get a state-issued personal identification card in time for him to vote Tuesday in the state and local elections.

But after the difficulty he had this weekend getting a proper ID card, Wright, 90, expressed concern that such problems could deter others from voting and stifle turnout. After spending much of his life fighting to make it easier to vote, the Democratic Party icon said he is troubled by what he's seeing happen under the state's new voter ID law.

"I earnestly hope these unduly stringent requirements on voters won't dramatically reduce the number of people who vote," Wright told the Star-Telegram. "I think they will reduce the number to some extent."

Wright and his assistant, Norma Ritchson, went to the DPS office on Woodway Drive to get a State of Texas Election Identification Certificate. Wright said he realized earlier in the week that the photo identifications he had -- a Texas driver's license that expired in 2010 and a TCU faculty ID -- do not satisfy requirements of the voter ID law, enacted in 2011 by the Legislature. DPS officials concurred.

But Wright and Ritchson will return to the office Monday with a certified copy of Wright's birth certificate, which the DPS employees assured them would be good enough for the Texas personal identification card, designed specifically for people who do not drive.

"It can be used for anything, not just voting," Ritchson said.

While Wright will be able to vote, Ritchson worried that others of his age may find the obstacles and inconvenience she and Wright encountered so off-putting that they just don't vote.

"I've been thinking about the people who are in retirement homes," Ritchson said. "I've read that this is the lowest early voter turnout in a long time and I wonder if this [ID requirement] is the cause. We've tried so hard to make voting easy, and now the Texas Legislature has made it harder by making you have a photo ID."

Voting still OK

Election officials in Tarrant County and statewide have stressed that voters who have no valid photo ID or election identification certificate can still cast ballots Tuesday.

They will be allowed to cast a provisional vote and then will have about a week to take the proper ID to the county elections office to "cure," or validate, the ballot, said Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman with the Texas secretary of state's office.

"We want to make sure that every eligible Texan who wants to cast a ballot can," Pierce said. "We want to help any Texan who needs additional information."

Wright, who said he has voted in every election since 1944, lamented that such help is called for.

"From my youth I have tried to expand the elections," Wright said. "I pushed to abolish the poll tax. I was the first to come out for lowering the voting age to 18."

Wright, a Fort Worth native, is a former state legislator and mayor of Weatherford who served in the U.S. House from 1955 until he resigned in 1989.

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