News Column

Challenge to Texas Voter ID Begins

September 2, 2014

Matthew Waller, Times Record News

Multicultural voter (file photo)
Multicultural voter (file photo)

Sept. 02--AUSTIN -- A trial renewing challenges against Texas' latest voter identification laws starts Tuesday in Corpus Christi.

The trial could last about two weeks, with plaintiffs suing the state ar­guing that the law with its different forms of ID requirements damages the ability to vote of people who are impov­erished or in the minority.

Texas law allows sev­eral forms of ID, including a driver's license, a Texas election identification cer­tificate, a personal identifi­cation card or a concealed handgun license issued by DPS.

The new photo ID re­quirements are aimed at working against voter fraud. Federal judges in Washington already ruled that the law is discrimina­tory, but a U.S. Supreme Court decision changed a portion of the law in ques­tion.

"In this regard, the Court explained that the Texas law 'imposes strict, unforgiving bur­dens on the poor, and

racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty,'" the complaint in the case states.

Gerry Hebert, a Washington attorney for plaintiffs suing the state, said many Texans stand to lose voting rights in the case.

"This is an important case because the photo ID law will not only burden Texans' right to vote, but we know that from our analysis there are approximately three quarters of a million Texans who are registered voters who lack one of the forms of identification necessary to vote," Hebert said. "There stands to be a great deal of voters in Texas who can't go to the ballot on Election Day because of this law."

The courts in D.C. were looking at the law because a certain section of the Voting Rights Act required Texas to get federal approval for election law changes because of historic discrimination.

In 2013, however, the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling that said part of the Voting Rights Act was outdated, so Texas started enforcing the voter ID law.

Hebert said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor against state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, shouldn't have pushed ahead with implementing the law given the D.C. court's findings.

The Texas attorney general's office, meanwhile, remained confident in the law.

"The Supreme Court has already ruled that voter ID laws are legal and a sensible way to protect the integrity of elections," Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general's office, said in a statement emailed to Scripps. "We believe the Supreme Court will reach the same result with the Texas voter ID law. Most every Texan already has a valid ID, but if they don't, they can get one for free. Voter ID has already been used in several elections in Texas without the disenfranchisement claimed by partisans who seem to be against election integrity."

Now the matter goes to trial before federal Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi, as the challenge continues under a different section of the Voting Rights Act, Section 2, which prohibits voter discrimination against racial and minority groups.

One of the plaintiffs in the case is Oscar Ortiz, a Nueces County commissioner.

Texas' photo ID law "is a solution in search of a problem, as a person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to see someone attempt to vote fraudulently at the polls," a release from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund states. "What is known, however, is that hundreds of thousands of registered voters in Texas lack the kind of photo ID required by SB 14, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color. Nationally, only 8 percent of white voting age citizens lack a government- issued photo ID compared to 25 percent of African-American voting age citizens."

Free voter IDs are offered by the state, though one-third of Texas' 254 counties do not have Department of Public Safety stations that can provide the cards, and opponents say voters must still pay for copies of birth certificates or other documents to obtain the ID.

Since the law took effect last summer, the agency has issued 279 voting IDs but reports receiving 1,700 inquiries.

Texas has held two elections so far since the law took effect, neither of which resulted in widespread reports of turnedaway voters. Following the November 2013 elections, state elections attorneys logged fewer than half the number of complaints as they did in 2011, according to the Texas secretary of state's office.

Meanwhile, during the March 4 primary election, Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry noted: "We did not hear any reports of significant issues related to photo ID. Texans came to the polls prepared to show one of the seven forms of approved identification."

This article contains material from The Associated Press. Matthew Waller covers state news as the Scripps Austin Bureau chief. Contact him at matthew.waller@scripps.com or follow him on Twitter@waller_matthew.

VOTER ID

A voter will be required to show one of the following forms of photo identification at the polling location before the voter will be permitted to cast a vote:

--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

--Except the U.S. citizenship certificate, the identification must be current or have expired no more than 60 days before being presented at the polling place.

Source: Texas secretary of state

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(c)2014 Times Record News (Wichita Fallas, Texas)

Visit the Times Record News (Wichita Fallas, Texas) at www.timesrecordnews.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Original headline: Texas voting rights trial over ID kicks off today


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Source: (c)2014 Times Record News (Wichita Fallas, Texas)


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