Judges Skeptical Of Claim That Texas Voter ID Law Does Not Disenfranchise Minorities

Our Guest Blogger is Billy Corriher, Associate Director of Research for Legal Progress.

Faced with data suggesting over a million eligible voters could be disenfranchised by a new Voter ID law, the state of Texas was grilled on Friday by the three-judge panel hearing its lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to “pre-clear” election law changes with DOJ, and Texas filed suit in a D.C. federal court after DOJ refused to approve the Voter ID law. The judges were skeptical that Texas had met its burden of showing that DOJ should have cleared the Voter ID law as non-discriminatory, with one judge arguing the statute’s “burden falls disproportionately on minorities . . . .”

Studies have shown that millions of Americans may be disenfranchised by new Voter ID measures pushed by Republican state legislators. These laws will have a disproportionate impact on the poor, the elderly, and minorities. As many as 25% of black voters could be disenfranchised by Voter ID laws, and Attorney General Eric Holder has called such measures a “poll tax.” Texas presented expert testimony to counter DOJ’s statistics, but even the one Republican-appointed judge on the panel said the state’s expert “took enormous hits” during cross-examination.

Texas’s Voter ID law was pushed through the legislature under a streamlined process “against a backdrop of huge Hispanic growth.” Roughly 90 percent of the state’s population growth in the last decade can be attributed to minorities. Attorneys for Texas voters argued this growth in minority voters prompted state legislators to pass the Voter ID bill.

Supporters of Voter ID laws say the requirement to show identification when voting will help prevent voter fraud. But even an investigation by the Texas’ attorney general could not point to any recent examples of proven voter fraud. True voter fraud is extraordinarily rare, and even proponents of Voter ID laws cannot provide examples. This is a solution in search of a problem.

These laws are appear to be motivated by a desire to keep certain groups, which often vote for Democrats, from casting their votes on election day. A Republican legislator in Pennsylvania said that Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID law would allow Mitt Romney to win the state. The political motives behind Texas’ law may be evidenced by the fact that the law designates a gun permit as an acceptable ID, but not a student ID. Whatever the motive, these laws clearly impact certain demographic groups more than others.

The court is expected to rule soon on the Texas statute, and its decision could be appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has hinted that the Voting Rights Act’s “preclearance” requirement could be unconstitutional. But unless the high court is prepared to throw out voting rights protections that have been renewed by Congress several times in the past 50 years, the state of Texas will face a high burden in proving that its Voter ID law does not rob black and Hispanic voters of their right to vote.