Jus­tice halts voter ID re­quire­ment in Texas

Says His­pan­ics tar­geted; Repub­li­cans cry foul

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The Jus­tice Depart­ment blocked Texas’ new voter-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion law Mon­day, ar­gu­ing that it tar­gets the state’s His­pan­ics — and ig­nit­ing yet an­other clash be­tween Pres­i­dent Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and a Gop-run state.

Texas is the sec­ond state to have its voter-id law re­jected by the Jus­tice Depart­ment, which has cast a crit­i­cal eye on Re­pub­li­can-con­trolled leg­is­la­tures as they move to combat both il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and voter fraud.

As­sis­tant At­tor­ney Gen­eral Thomas E. Perez said he was us­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s power un­der the Vot­ing Rights Act to block the state’s law. He said the data show that His­pan­ics could be twice as likely as other groups to lack the right kind of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

“His­pan­ics dis­pro­por­tion­ately lack ei­ther a driver’s li­cense or a per­sonal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion card is­sued by [the state’s Depart­ment of Public Safety], and that dis­par­ity is sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant,” he said in a six-page let­ter to Texas of­fi­cials.

Texas al­ready had asked a fed­eral court to hear the case, so a judge will have the final say.

But the tim­ing of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s move left some Repub­li­cans ques­tion­ing the mo­tives.

“To­day’s decision reeks of pol­i­tics,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Re­pub­li­can and for­mer judge who said the Jus­tice Depart­ment is try­ing to “carry water for the pres­i­dent’s re-elec­tion cam­paign.”

The is­sue is likely to play as well on the Re­pub­li­can cam­paign trail, where pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates have said they would drop ob­jec­tions to voter-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and state im­mi­gra­tion laws.

At stake is the thorny ques­tion of which is a big­ger prob­lem in the coun­try: voter fraud or vote sup­pres­sion.

While there have been high-pro­file cases of in­valid reg­is­tra­tions, civil rights groups ar­gue that there is lit­tle ev­i­dence of fraud at the polls. They say the big­ger prob­lem is the en­act­ment of laws that make vot­ing tougher.

“This new law is a clear-cut at­tempt to sup­press mi­nor­ity votes and stymie mi­nor­ity par­tic­i­pa­tion in our democ­racy,” said Gary Bled­soe, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ad­vance­ment of Col­ored Peo­ple’s Texas State Con­fer­ence, who cheered the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s decision.

But Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Greg Ab­bott said voter fraud is a real dan­ger and that his own of­fice has won 50 con­vic­tions for elec­tion fraud in the past decade. He said the Jus­tice Depart­ment has pros­e­cuted more than 100 cases in that time.

He listed cases in­clud­ing a woman who sub­mit­ted her dead mother’s bal­lot, a per­son who voted twice on Elec­tion Day and an elec­tion worker who fraud­u­lently cast a bal­lot un­der the name of a voter who shared his last name.

Texas is one of a hand­ful of states that, be­cause of past dis­crim­i­na­tion prac­tices, is re­quired to sub­mit new vot­ing changes to the Jus­tice Depart­ment. The depart­ment can block any changes it deems will have an ad­verse im­pact on mi­nori­ties, and only a court can over­turn its de­ci­sions.

An­tic­i­pat­ing a neg­a­tive re­view, Texas went to court on its own, seek­ing a final judg­ment. That case is pend­ing.

Gov. Rick Perry signed the vo­teri­den­ti­fi­ca­tion leg­is­la­tion in May, cap­ping a six-year fight in the state Leg­is­la­ture. Democrats blocked the law for years, but Repub­li­cans cap­tured a su­per­ma­jor­ity in the state’s House and pow­ered the leg­is­la­tion through.

The same sce­nario played out in other states last year, usu­ally af­ter Repub­li­cans won or ex­panded ma­jori­ties and pushed voter-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion laws. But in Rhode Is­land, a Demo­crat-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture passed a law im­pos­ing a photo-id re­quire­ment in 2014, and it was signed by Gov. Lin­coln D. Chafee, an in­de­pen­dent.

In De­cem­ber, the Jus­tice Depart­ment blocked South Carolina’s new ID law, and depart­ment of­fi­cials have said they are look­ing at other states’ laws.

The cases will come down to ar­gu­ments over how the laws af­fect mi­nori­ties and what steps the states take to lessen the im­pacts.

The Supreme Court has up­held In­di­ana’s voter-id law, and back­ers of the Texas statute said it was mod­eled on In­di­ana — though Texas is more re­stric­tive in its list of ac­cept­able iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Vot­ers who can­not present iden­ti­fi­ca­tion are al­lowed to cast pro­vi­sional bal­lots but must re­turn within six days with the re­quired ID or must sign an af­fi­davit say­ing they lost their iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter or have a re­li­gious ob­jec­tion to be­ing pho­tographed.

In his let­ter, Mr. Perez said Texas hasn’t taken any steps to make it eas­ier to get an ID, and said the Leg­is­la­ture even re­jected a pro­posal to add ex­tra hours at state of­fices where driver’s li­censes or ID cards can be ob­tained.

Mr. Perez also high­lighted the costs of trav­el­ing to an of­fice to get iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, and the cost of ob­tain­ing a birth certificate or other sup­port­ing doc­u­ments re­quired to get an ID, as bur­dens that chiefly strike His­pan­ics, who are more likely to be be­low poverty lev­els.

Na­tion­wide, 16 states have voter-id laws that don’t re­quire a photo, while 15 oth­ers re­quire a photo.

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