Justice Department files objection to Texas voter ID law
Published March 12, 2012
FILE: Voters are shown in this Nov. 2, 2010, photo casting ballots in Texas.
The Justice Department is objecting to a new photo ID law in Texas for voters, saying the state has failed to demonstrate that the the law is not discriminatory by design against Hispanic voters.
The department's head of the civil rights division, Tom Perez, wrote a a six-page letter to Texas' director of elections saying that Texas has not "sustained its burden" under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to show that the new law will not have a discriminatory effect on minority voters. About 11 percent of Hispanic voters reportedly lack state-issued identification.
Perez wrote that while the state says the new photo ID requirement is to "ensure electoral integrity and deter ineligible voters from voting" the state "did not include evidence of significant in-person voter impersonation not already addressed by the state's existing laws."
Perez added that the number of people lacking any personal ID or driver's license issued by
the state ranges from from 603,892 to 795,955, but of that span, 29-38 percent of them are Hispanic.
"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," Perez wrote.
"Even using the data most favorable to the state ... that disparity is statistically significant," he said.
A spokesman with the Texas Secretary of State's office, which runs the Elections Division, was not immediately available. However, a Democratic state lawmaker told the Houston Chronicle that he was thankful for the decision.
"Throughout the pre-clearance process, Texas consistently failed to produce information showing the law would not have a discriminatory impact on minority voters. The Voting Rights Act exists for this exact purpose: protecting the ability of all Americans to access the ballot box," Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, told the newspaper.
Perez noted that the Texas law allowed voters to show military ID, a U.S. citizenship certificate, a U.S. passport or a license to carry a concealed handgun, but the state did not provide any statistics noting how many people lack state ID but have the other allowable forms.
"Nor has the state provided any data on the demographic makeup of such voters," Perez wrote.
Texas is the second state to have its voter ID law challenged. The Justice Department already blocked a similar law from taking effect in South Carolina -- the first time a voter ID law was rejected by the department in nearly 20 years.
South Carolina sued Holder in response, arguing that enforcement of its new law will not disenfranchise any voters.
As for the Texas law, Perez wrote that while lawmakers offered to make election identification certificates available to protect low-income voters who don't already have any ID, the documents are not free, and it creates the additional burden of traveling to a driver's license office, undergoing an application process that includes fingerprinting and finding supporting documentation to prove one's identity.
Using Census data, the Justice Department argued that the law creates an undue hardship on Hispanic populations that don't have the means to get a vehicle, live extremely far from a driver's license office or can't make it during the offices' limited operating hours.
Upon a federal court order, Texas recently changed its March 1 primary date to May 29 after a months-long fight over redistricting.