It’s Texas’ turn in the continuing battle between states and the Obama Department of Justice regarding controversial voter ID laws that activists say unfairly disenfranchise minority voters.

The latest round is Texas v. Eric Holder that began July 9 in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Texas is asking the court to approve its 2011 law, which requires voters to produce a government-issued ID. Under the law, student IDs are not accepted.

The state is also asking the court to strike down a section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that requires states like Texas with a history of discrimination against minority voters to obtain government preclearance before enacting any changes to the election process.

On March 12, the Department of Justice refused to approve Texas’ voter ID law, saying that based on the state’s own data between 600,000 and 800,000 registered voters lack a driver’s license or personal identification card issued by the state’s Department of Public Safety. And a disproportionate number of those voters were Hispanic.

“According to the state’s own data, a Hispanic registered voter is at least 46.5 percent, and potentially 120.0 percent, more likely than a non-Hispanic registered voter to lack this identification,” the DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez wrote in the March 12 letter denying Texas’ request.

The Justice Department also determined that issuing free IDs via the state’s public safety department (DPS) was not enough because 81 of the state’s 254 counties lacked a DPS office.

In response to an AFRO request for a statement, the Texas Office of the Secretary of State, which oversees the state’s elections, said it does not comment on ongoing litigation. A similar request to the state’s attorney general office went unanswered in time to be include in this AFRO report. In a previous response to the DOJ’s decision, however, Secretary of State Hope Andrade said the basis of the denial was faulty.

“The Dept. of Justice’s decision is extremely disappointing, especially since the data they demanded came from matching two separate data sets never designed to be matched, and their agency was warned that matches from these data sets would be misleading.” Andrade said in the statement. “My office will continue working with the Texas Attorney General’s Office in seeking to implement the will of the citizens of Texas, as enacted by our duly elected representatives in the Texas Legislature.”
Supporters of the voter ID law, most of them Republican, say it is necessary to prevent fraud and to protect the integrity of the elections. Detractors, however, say incidences of voter impersonation are rare, and those laws disproportionately marginalize minority voters.
Nationwide, 25 percent of African Americans and 16 percent of Latinos of voting age lack a current government-issued photo ID, according to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), which is representing the Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund, and Black college students at Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern Universities who have intervened in the case.

“Our clients voted in previous elections in Texas using the only form of identification they had—a state-issued student ID—which would no longer be acceptable under Texas’s proposed photo identification law,” said Ryan P. Haygood, director of LDF’s Political Participation Group. “While a student ID will not satisfy Texas’s proposed ID measure, a concealed handgun license will. Section 5 protects against the implementation of this type of law, which threatens to disfranchise many students of color who seek to exercise their protected right to vote.”

The group, which is joined by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Brennan Center and other civil rights advocates and watchdogs in opposing Texas’ ID law, also decried the state’s attempt to invalidate the Voting Rights Act.

“Texas’s discriminatory photo ID measure demonstrates why, in the face of persisting obstacles for minority voters, the Voting Rights Act is still necessary,” said Natasha Korgaonkar, LDF assistant counsel. “Our clients expose the discriminatory nature of Texas’s photo ID measure, and the true costs and burdens of obtaining the underlying documents necessary to secure Texas’s so-called ‘free’ photo ID. Our experience teaches us that a student’s ability to pay a fee should not determine whether they can vote.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO