U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, the Justice Department and other plaintiffs made strong arguments, right up to the Supreme Court, against using strict new Texas voter ID requirements in the Nov. 4 election.
The arguments were convincing.
In fact, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi found the requirements “draconian” and ruled last week that the voter ID law passed by the Legislature in 2011 discriminated against African-American and Hispanic voters.
And, according to the evidence in a nine-day trial, that’s what the Legislature wanted.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals brushed those findings aside — didn’t even address them — on Tuesday in ruling that because voting is just days away, the state should be allowed to enforce its voter ID rules as planned.
That’s wrong. Mainly, because it ignores the effect on real people.
Also, because the alternative to using the strict — and discriminatory, according to the judge’s ruling — voter ID rules is not scary at all. We can just use the same voter ID requirements adopted in 2003 and used until 2013.
Proponents of the new law argue that it’s necessary in order to prevent voter fraud. But, again according to evidence at the Corpus Christi trial, only two people were convicted of in-person voter fraud in the entire decade the previous law was in effect.
The state has an interest in preventing future fraud, but not at the expense of qualified voters who want to cast ballots and are denied that right because they don’t have the proper ID under the overly strict new law.
It’s not hard to get the proper ID, proponents say. But evidence showed that for hundreds of thousands of Texans — disproportionately, African-Americans and Hispanics who are poor — it is difficult.
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For them, the travel time to the nearest Department of Public Safety office to get a free ID card is 90 minutes or more. When they get there, they must have the proper documentation, which typically includes a certified copy of their birth certificate.
If they were born in Texas and can make an in-person visit to the proper records office and know how to ask for it, they can get a birth certificate for the cut rate of $2 or $3.
If they need to get it by mail, need to correct errors in their certificate, were not registered at birth or need a certificate from another state, the cost is at least $22 or as much as $47.
Those costs led the judge to declare the new voter ID law an unconstitutional poll tax, although that was not the primary focus of the trial.
It’s generally acknowledged, and was noted by the judge, that the new Texas voter ID law is stricter than most if not all such laws in the U.S.
Our lawmakers even rejected alternative forms of identification allowed in states like Indiana and Georgia.
Voters could still cast a ballot without having the proper ID, but their vote wouldn’t be counted unless they provide that ID to the voter registrar within six days. Or they can swear that they have a religious objection to having their photo taken or can prove that they lost their ID in a recent natural disaster.
You can’t use a government employee or student ID, but you can use a concealed handgun permit. Those and distinctions, the evidence showed, make voting requirements more restrictive for African-Americans and Hispanics than for Anglos.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibits any “voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure” that “results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”
The trial showed that the Texas voter ID law violates that act. Early voting starts Monday.