4 takeaways about voter ID from Texas's ruling

Posted on October 11, 2014

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A Texas district court struck down the state's controversial strict photo ID law earlier this week. It's a significant ruling -- here's 4 things the Court found worth noting. 

UPDATE 10/14: The 5th Circuit has overturned the district court's ruling and reinstated Texas's voter ID law.

1) The law is a huge burden

Approximately 610,000 Texan voters don’t have the photo ID this law requires.  That's about 4.5% of all registered voters, more than enough to swing an election. The Court found that the significant time, expense, and travel that getting proper ID requires would unconstitutionally burden lower income voters and people of color.  Indeed, lower income Texans are at least eight times more likely to lack the proper ID.

Said the Court:

“The unconstitutionality of SB 13 lies... in the Texas Legislature’s willingness and ability to place unnecessary obstacles in the way of a minority that is least able to overcome them.  It is too easy to think that everyone ought to have a photo ID when so many do, but the right to vote of good citizens of the State of Texas should not be substantially burdened simply because the hurdles might appear to be low.  For these Plaintiffs and so many more like them, they are not.”

2) It's meant to suppress voters

African-American and Hispanic voters are overrepresented among the 610,000 Texans who lack proper ID. The Voting Rights Act still prohibits voting regulations that disproportionally impact people of color -- regardless of their intent. But this ruling goes a step further, asserting that the law was written specifically to keep minorities away from the polls.

It's dishearteningly easy to draw a parallel between the tactics used to disenfranchise black voters in the Jim Crow South, and the partisan anti-voter laws we're seeing today. The court didn't shy away from doing so, calling the law an "unconstitutional poll tax."

3) It's an artifact of an ugly history

The Court found that Texas's use “of election devices to defeat the interests of the minority population is, unfortunately, no aberration.” The Court looked to the state government's long history of voter suppression -- from all-white primary elections, to purge laws, to domicile tests that block student voters, to racially gerrymandered districts, and more.

The Court's decision to consider Texas's history is a big deal -- the United States Supreme Court overturned Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 on the grounds that covered jurisdictions’ historical voting practices weren't relevant today. But by considering the historical context behind Texas's latest voter suppression effort, the district court determined that it was discriminatory under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and also that it was intentionally discriminatory based on the overall context under which it arose.

4) It doesn't work

Voter ID advocates claim that their only objective is to stamp out voter fraud -- but the Court looked at the empirical record and found that such fraud was “not demonstrated to be a real concern with in-person voting.”  Judge Nevla Gonzalez Ramos went a step further, explaining in her ruling that claims of voter fraud are just red-herrings for discrimination, noting that “[t]here has been a clear and disturbing pattern of discrimination in the name of combatting voter fraud in Texas.”

Another supposed benefit of voter ID laws is that they instill confidence in voters about the election process. However, the Court found no credible evidence that photo ID laws help voters trust the system, and that in any event, a confidence boost would not be worth disenfranchising good-faith voters.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Voting and Elections

Tags: Voting Rights

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