Politics
3:18 pm
Mon January 23, 2012

Stymied, Texas Seeks to Implement Voter ID Law

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has filed a complaint against the U.S. Department of Justice, seeking to enforce a controversial voter ID requirement passed by the Texas Legislature.

Passed in 2011, the law requires most voters to show a photo ID verifying their identity before they can cast a ballot. Proponents of the measure claim it’s required to clamp down on voter fraud. But critics counter instances of voter fraud are relatively rare, and moreover, the parties most likely affected – minorities, the young, and poorer citizens – often support Democratic candidates over Republican ones.

Abbott's complaint alleges that the Department of Justice, under Attorney General Eric Holder, is dragging its feet on implementing the measure. Similar to Texas’ recent redistricting plan, changes to elections in states covered by the Voting Rights Act (including Texas) must gain preclearance from the DOJ before they can be implemented. The DOJ hasn’t acted so far, except to say it’s unable to tell whether the bill will abridge minority voters’ rights.

Abbott’s office writes:

Although other states—like Indiana—can enforce their photo identification laws, Texas has been denied that authority because the federal Voting Rights Act prohibits changes to Texas election laws from being implemented until they are granted “preclearance” by either the DOJ or the federal courts. The Texas Secretary of State’s Office sought preclearance from the DOJ on July 25, 2011, but the Obama Administration has twice delayed the approval process—and is still holding the matter under review. Despite the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision finding that state photo identification laws are constitutional, the DOJ recently refused to preclear South Carolina’s voter identification law in December 2011. Consequently, in an effort to ensure Texas’ photo identification law is implemented as quickly as possible, the State has begun the process of getting judicial preclearance from the federal courts.

In 2011 – the same year Texas passed its voter identification law – the States of Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Wisconsin also enacted photo identification laws. Those states are among the fifteen states that have enacted laws requiring voters to show photo identification at the polling place. However, because not all states are subject to Section 5’s preclearance requirements, recently enacted photo identification laws in Kansas, Tennessee and Wisconsin were allowed to take effect immediately—while Texas and South Carolina are unable to implement their voter identification laws until preclearance is granted.

The complaint was filed in the District of Columbia’s district court.

Voter ID legislation has been a contentious issue both in Texas and nationwide. Lawsuits challenging the Texas measure, Senate Bill 14, sprang up soon after its passage.

At the federal level, Holder has questioned the impact that similar voter ID legislation passing in statehouses across the country will have on minority voters, saying his office will "vigorously defend Section 5 [of the Voting Rights Act] against challenges to its constitutionality."