The U.S. Department of Justice blocked Texas’ new voter ID law Monday, noting that the measure would unduly disenfranchise Hispanic voters.
Texas passed an election law overhaul last May which included a requirement that voters present a certain form of government-issued photo ID or be turned away from the polls. Neither Student IDs nor Social Security or Medicaid cards, and no exceptions are allowed for the poor or elderly. Unlike some states which ask for photo ID but have recourse such as a provisional ballot for voters who lack an acceptable ID, the Texas law simply turned away these folks. As a result, thousands of Texans stood to be disenfranchised, including a longtime Texas voter ThinkProgress interviewed named Jessica Cohen who had her personal papers stolen and could not afford the fee to pay Missouri officials for a replacement, all in order to get an acceptable voter ID.
Fortunately, Texas is one of nine states with a history of discrimination that must get any changes to their election law cleared by the Department of Justice under the Voting Rights Act before they can take effect. The burden of proof is one these states to show that any new laws will not have an adverse impact on minorities.
That preclearance was denied today in a letter from Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez because the law would have unduly discriminated against Hispanic voters. For instance, nearly one-third of counties in Texas lack driver’s license offices, and in these counties, 10 percent of Hispanics lack a license, double the rate of non-Hispanics. Across the state, Perez notes, “Hispanic voters represent only 21.8 percent of the registered voters in the state, Hispanic voters represent fully 29.0 percent of the registered voters without such identification.”
He sums up:
Thus, we conclude that the total number of registered voters who lack a driver’s license or personal identification card issued by DPS could range from 603,892 to 795,955. The disparity between the percentages of Hispanics and non-Hispanics who lack these forms of identification ranges from 46.5 to 120.0 percent. That is, 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. Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card issued by DPS, and that disparity is statistically significant.
The Department of Justice has shown an admirable amount of courage in protecting the voting rights of minorities against the recent onslaught of regressive state voting laws. Last year, they denied preclearance to South Carolina for a similar voter ID law that would have had a discriminatory effect on black voters.