On Monday, the Department of Justice and the Texas Legislature will square off in court over Texas’ contentious voter ID law. A three-judge U.S. District Court panel will hear the case, which could challenge the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Texas is one of nine states that must get any changes to their election law cleared by the DOJ under the Voting Rights Act due to a history of discrimination. Texas flunked the test; as Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez wrote in his letter to the Director of Elections, “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 law, SB 14, requires voters to show one of a very narrow list of government-issued documents, excluding Social Security, Medicaid, or student ID cards. Gun licenses, however, are acceptable.
The DOJ found that Texas’s SB 14 will “disenfranchise at least 600,000 voters who currently lack necessary photo identification and that minority registered voters will be disproportionately affected by the law.”
As of the 2010 Census, non-Hispanic whites have become the minority in Texas, shrinking to 45.3% of the population from 52.4%, while Latinos accounted for 65% of Texas’s population growth over the past decade.
But Latinos are not the only people hurt by the restrictive bill. People who want to vote but don’t have an ID will have to pay a fee to get one, like Jessica Cohen, whose story ThinkProgress documented in November. After she lost her identification during a robbery, the only way to get a voter ID was to pay a fee to Missouri officials in order to obtain her birth certificate.
On Monday, Texas will defend the law as a necessary measure to prevent voter fraud. Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) argued that “Texas has a responsibility to ensure elections are fair, beyond reproach and accurately reflect the will of voters.” But the San Antonio Express-News reported that fewer than five “illegal voting” complaints involving voter impersonations were filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office from the 2008 and 2010 general elections in which more than 13 million voters participated.
The Texas voter ID law isn’t the first the DOJ has had to combat. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder noted,
“The past two years have brought nearly two dozen new state laws and executive orders, from more than a dozen states, that could make it significantly harder for eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.”