What’s Happening With the Texas Voter ID Law?

Editor’s Note: For those following along: Texas has been in the news a lot lately over its photo ID law. Here’s the latest.

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Oral argument will take place Tuesday before the full panel of judges of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Texas’s strict photo ID law.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs — including the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives — will argue the ID requirement, the strictest in the nation, violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution by making it harder for African-Americans and Latinos to cast a ballot.

Texas is one of 17 states with new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election this year. More than 600,000 registered voters lack the specific form of ID required under Texas’s law.

The ID requirement, originally enacted in 2011, was initially blocked under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, on the basis that it discriminates against minority voters. It was implemented in 2013 after the Supreme Court gutted that core provision of the Voting Rights Act.

Since then, the law was ruled discriminatory by a federal trial court in October 2014, which was upheld by a Fifth Circuit three-judge panel in August 2015. Both found that the law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, denying African-American and Latino voters an equal opportunity to cast a ballot. The requirement has remained in place since then despite these rulings.

The Texas State Conference of the NAACP and MALC challenged the Texas law in September 2013. That case was consolidated with other similar cases and is now known as Veasey v. Abbott. The attorneys representing the groups include Dechert LLP, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Potter Bledsoe L.L.P., the Law Offices of Jose Garza, the national office of the NAACP, the Law Office of Robert S. Notzon, and the Covich Law Firm, P.C.

“The Texas photo ID law is one of the most burdensome and discriminatory voting restriction laws in the country,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “While in-person vote fraud is a fallacy, what is true is that photo id laws have an impact on hundreds of thousands of voters in the state of Texas, including a disproportionate number of African-Americans, Latinos, students and poor people. We are confident that a full panel of judges in the 5th Circuit will see the Texas photo ID law for the discriminatory barrier to the ballot box that it is.”

Need a little background? A federal court in Washington, D.C. blocked Texas’s voter ID law in 2012 under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, finding that the law would make it significantly more difficult for minority citizens in Texas to vote on Election Day. In June 2013, however, the U.S. Supreme Court (in a separate case) ruled that the formula used in the Act for specifying the states covered by Section 5 is unconstitutional. As a result, Texas is not currently required to comply with the Section 5 pre-clearance provision. Just hours after the Supreme Court’s decision, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced the state would implement the voter ID law.

At the Sept. 2014 trial, the Texas NAACP and MALC, among others, presented evidence showing the state’s ID requirement would erect discriminatory barriers to voting. At trial, experts testified that 1.2 million eligible Texas voters lack a form of government-issued photo ID that would have been accepted under the new law — and minorities would be hit the hardest. For example, the court credited testimony that African-American registered voters are 305 percent more likely and Hispanic registered voters 195 percent more likely than white registered voters to lack photo ID that can be used to vote.

New at Pew: Interactive State Online Registration Systems

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Many states, including Pennsylvania, have moved to an online voter registration system. Supporters laud the advantages of such systems: they can help save tax dollars, they can help increase voter roll accuracy, and perhaps most importantly, helps provide a more hassle-free way for Americans to register or update their registrations.

But how are those online systems performing? Now The Pew Charitable Trusts has a new interactive tool to keep track – one that monitors and surveys states that implement or continue to offer online voter registration.

Overall?

According to Pew, the responses indicate that online registration holds up as a being:

  • cost-effective for states
  • easy for voters
  • and more accurate than paper forms.

But there’s more. According to the nonprofit, online voter registration systems :

  • are more secure
  • reduce potential for fraud by verifying voters’ identities and eligibility.
  • tracks what states offer online registration
  • summarizes survey findings across five topics: legislation, development, features, access and processing.

Want to check it out? The tool may be accessed here. Want to learn more about online voter registration systems in general? No worries – here’s a resource you might want to check out first.

Advocates: U.S. Supreme Court Must Take Action so None Are Harmed by Voter ID Law in Texas

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As election 2016 continues, voter ID laws – and their effects – keep making headlines. We wanted to draw your attention to a story developing out of Texas.

Here’s what’s happening:

The Campaign Legal Center recently called on the U.S. Supreme Court to take immediate action in the Texas voter ID case so voters will not be harmed by the law in the 2016 presidential election.

The application filed with SCOTUS follows the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ refusal to offer relief in time for the upcoming election.

Earlier this month, the appellate court effectively denied the Campaign Legal Center’s emergency motion to vacate its stay of a lower court’s ruling that struck down the law. Under the 5th Circuit’s order, the voter ID law will remain in effect as the case proceeds once again in the 5th Circuit, where it has languished since October 2014.

“Seven federal judges have ruled that Texas’ voter ID law discriminates against minority voters, but the law is still in effect,” said Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center. “The 5th Circuit has set up a schedule that likely forecloses our ability to obtain relief in time for the presidential election. We are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure that that no one is prevented from casting a ballot because this discriminatory law is in place.”

The D.C. District Court, a Texas district court, and a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit have all found that the law discriminates against minority voters. The 5th Circuit’s stay of the district court’s decision in 2014 is the only reason the law is in effect.

“The stay was only granted because the District Court’s order was handed down days before the 2014 election and the 5th Circuit was concerned about changing procedures so close to the election. It should never have extended past 2014,” said Danielle Lang, legal fellow of the Campaign Legal Center. “The dangers identified by the court of appeals have passed, so there is no reason eligible Texas voters should once again be denied the right to vote.”

 

Investigation: 31 Instances of Voter Impersonation Out of 1 Billion Ballots Cast

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The Washington Post recently published a guest post written by Justin Levitt, a professor at the Loyola University Law School and an expert in constitutional law/law of democracy, with a focus on election administration and redistricting.

In the post, Levitt writes about recent voter ID rulings, including Wisconsin’s, and about his experience investigating instances of voter impersonation – what he says voter ID laws are designed to prevent.

Here is an excerpt:

In 2008, when the Supreme Court weighed in on voter ID, I looked at every single allegation put before the Court. And since then, I’ve been following reports wherever they crop up.

I’ve been tracking allegations of fraudfor years now, including the fraud ID laws are designed to stop. In 2008, when the Supreme Court weighed in on voter ID, I looked at every single allegation put before the Court. And since then, I’ve been following reports wherever they crop up.

So far, I’ve found about 31 different incidents (some of which involve multiple ballots) since 2000, anywhere in the country. If you want to check my work, you can read a comprehensive list of the incidents below.

To put this in perspective, the 31 incidents below come in the context of general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014. In general and primary elections alone, more than 1 billion ballots were cast in that period.

To read Levitt’s blog in its entirety, click here.

Attorney General: Challenges to Ohio, Wisconsin Voter ID Laws Planned

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In a recent interview with ABC, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder indicated that his office was planning legal challenges to voter ID laws enacted in Ohio and Wisconsin (a challenge to North Carolina’s controversial law has already been filed).

He said the push for strict voter ID laws is politically motivated and make it more difficult for “groups that are not supportive of those in power” to cast their ballots at the polls.

Holder said:

“Who is disproportionately impacted by (voter ID laws)? Young people, African Americans, Hispanics, older people, people who, for whatever reason, aren’t necessarily supportive of the Republican Party,” Holder said, noting that “this notion that there is widespread in-person voter fraud is simply belied by the facts.”

To read the entire story, click here.

To read more about North Carolina’s voter ID law, click here.

To read more about Ohio’s voting-rights issues, click here.

To read more about Wisconsin’s voter ID fight, click here.

To get background about Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, which a federal judge ruled to be unconstitutional, click here.