Texas’ Strict Voter ID Law Goes Back To Court, With Half A Million Voters’ Rights At Stake

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

One of the most conservative courts in the nation is hearing a challenge Tuesday to Texas’ voter ID law from from the state conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. These groups, represented by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, argues that the voter ID requirement suppresses the votes of people of color, who are much less likely to have a proper ID and much more likely to face barriers to getting one.

More than half a million registered Texan voters, the vast majority of them people of color, could be disenfranchised if the law is upheld.

“This is the most restrictive and burdensome law of its kind,” said Kristen Clarke, the president of the Lawyers Committee. “There is a clear discriminatory impact on voters. African Americans and Latinos are two to three times more likely than whites not to have an ID, and poor people are ten times more likely. So we are confident that when the full panel of judges hears the evidence they will agree with us and find the law is discriminatory and should be stricken before this election.”

Yet 10 of the 15 judges on the Fifth Circuit were appointed by Republican presidents. Three of the court’s judges ruled earlier this year that the voter ID requirement violates the federal Voting Rights Act, but the full court vacated that opinion. In April, the Supreme Court sent the case back down to the Fifth Circuit for further review, but signaled that they may need to intervene if the lower court doesn’t act in time.

With a heated, likely close presidential election mere months away, voting rights advocates across the country are scrambling to challenge the wave of laws passed since the last election that make it harder to vote for people of color, the poor, students, and the elderly. Cases in Virginia, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and other states are making their way through the courts, but Texas’ law stands in a class of its own.

Under the law, passed along party lines in 2011, a gun license is an acceptable form of ID, but a state university ID is not. A recent analysis by the New York Times of the state’s database found that nearly three quarters of gun license holders are men, and nearly 90 percent are white. Applying for a Texas gun license also costs $140, or $70 if the applicant is below the poverty line, while most university IDs are free. Obtaining a birth certificate, which is needed to get many forms of required ID, can involve an expensive and time consuming bureaucratic slog. Many of the state rural, low-income counties also lack a DMV where people can obtain an ID, forcing voters without a drivers license to somehow travel hundreds of miles to get one.

This cost disparity is part of why a judge on a lower federal court slammed the law as a “poll tax” when striking it down in 2014.

Since then, more evidence has emerged that the law burdens those most likely to cast a ballot for Democrats. Hundreds of voters were turned away in last year’s midterm elections, while hundreds more ballots were thrown out due to the voter ID law in 2014. A study released last year found that many voters who had a proper ID were confused by the law and discouraged from voting because they believed they were not eligible. The vast majority of those surveyed stated their intent to vote for a Democrat.

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This was reposted from ThinkProgress.

Alice Ollstein is a Political Reporter at ThinkProgress. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered and Telesur. Alice is originally from Santa Monica, California.

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