People For the American Way Foundation

UPDATE: Voter ID on trial in Texas

UPDATE: Attorneys for both sides gave closing arguments last Friday after a weeklong trial. Experts expect the ruling, which could come before November, will hinge on whether the defendants have successfully shown that the law has a disparate impact on minorities. Representative Fischer highlighted the hurdles that many Texans would have to clear in order to acquire valid ID, pointing out that some “would have a 200-mile round-trip drive.” Attorney General Eric Holder described the ID requirement as a “poll tax.” As the New York Times editorialized, “People died to achieve [the Voting Rights Act], but 47 years later, the discrimination has not disappeared.”

Last May, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed SB 14 into law. An ALEC award-winner himself, Governor Perry had the support of several ALEC members and others who pushed the legislation. Together they made Texas a photo ID state.

Then the DOJ issued an official objection that stopped the law from going into effect, saying that it disproportionately affects Hispanic voters. Not only is Texas defending the law, but Attorney General Greg Abbott even amended the state’s complaint with a direct constitutional challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This represented a dramatic escalation in the right wing’s war against the right to vote. The AG has also dropped his objection to taking depositions from state lawmakers.

The trial opened this week with the Justice Department strongly demonstrating SB 14’s failure to meet requirements under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a key provision that requires DOJ or a federal court to approve election law changes in certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination before they can go into effect. DOJ attorney Elizabeth Westfall contended that 1.4 million voters could be affected.

Gary Bledsoe, NAACP Texas State Conference, President:

This new law is a clear-cut attempt to suppress minority votes and stymie minority participation in our democracy […] Even today, minority voters continue to be harassed at the polls, but the State of Texas wants to move us in the wrong direction.

Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, Mexican American Legislative Caucus, Chairman:

This is about ensuring that every American is respected, that our voices are heard, and that the promise of America continues to thrive. Photo identification laws could take us back to the era of the poll tax. They could have a chilling effect at the polls, and we have never solved anything in America with less democracy.

Wendy Weiser, Brennan Center, Democracy Program Director:

Texas’ photo ID law could prevent hundreds of thousands of eligible voters from casting a ballot […] Decades ago, our nation passed the Voting Rights Act to combat this kind of discrimination. We urge the federal court to stand up for voters by blocking this law.

The trial is expected to conclude on July 13.

For more information, check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.


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