Wednesday, September 18, 2013
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in August that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional, it opened the way for many states which had operated under strict supervision of the Justice Department to revamp and revise their voting laws.
Texas is one of those states and, immediately following that Supreme Court ruling, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced the state would now move forward to implement a controversial voter ID law.
Now that law has been challenged by civil rights groups in a lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday. The Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the state House of Representatives filed the suit, claiming the voter ID law "erects discriminatory barriers to voting."
The complaint filed in federal court in Corpus Christi argued the voter ID law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act because it makes it more difficult for minority voters to participate in the political process. The complaint further argues that the measure "was enacted specifically to exclude these groups."
According to the Texas Secretary of State website, to vote in the state you must present one of the following seven forms of identification:
- Texas driver's license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)
- Texas Election Identification Certificate issued by DPS
- Texas personal identification card issued by DPS
- Texas concealed handgun license issued by DPS
- United States military identification card containing the person's photograph
- United States citizenship certificate containing the person's photograph
- United States passport
Opponents to the law argue that minority voters have the most difficulty obtaining these forms of legal ID.
Myrna Perez of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center said, "Texas' photo ID law could prevent hundreds of thousands of eligible voters from casting a ballot, including a disproportionate number of minorities."
This all comes at a time when Texas, a historically Republican state, is witnessing a broad change in demographics that threatens continued GOP dominance.
At the time of the Supreme Court decision, which ruled the pre-clearance section of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional, Justice Department officials warned that the remaining provisions of the law could still be used to block discriminatory voting practices.
Attorney General Eric Holder said at that time: "We will not allow the Supreme Court's recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights."
The Justice Department and the Obama Administration immediately filed suit to stop implementation of the Texas law.
Texas politicians are fighting back against the charges and the suit. Abbott told USA Today that Holder's lawsuit represented the "cynical politics of race," and said "Eric Holder's outrageous claim that voter ID is a racist plot to disenfranchise minority voters is gutter politics."
An editorial in today's Baylor Lariat, Baylor University's campus newspaper, also argues in favor of the Texas ID law.
Many people have lost faith in the election process. As a country, we need to take vital steps to ensure the integrity of elections. The first step in the process is to ensure that only those that are legally allowed to vote actually vote. Government-issued photo IDs are the way to accomplish this.
The newspaper further points out that there is a provision in the law that allows the Texas Department of Public Safety to issue a "Election Identification Certificate" free of charge as long as a voter can verify U.S. citizenship and Texas residency. Claims that the law would prevent minority voting is "race-baiting," the editorial maintains.
Most voter ID laws are put in place to prevent people who are not eligible to vote from voting. Even supporters agree, however, that there is little evidence of this kind of fraud taking place.
Tuesday's lawsuit will likely join two other pending suits against the law. A federal judge is expected to hear the case at the end of October.