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Justice Department urged to block voter ID law

I’m all in on this.

A coalition of civil rights groups is urging the Obama administration’s Justice Department to reject Texas’ voter-ID law, charging that the measure advocated by Rick Perry intentionally discriminates against black and Hispanic voters. The Legislature passed the law earlier this year requiring voters to present a picture identification. The Justice Department has the authority to review whether laws in Southern states violate federal civil rights laws. Perry and Republicans in the Legislature say the law is designed to stop voter fraud. Democrats say its intent is to discourage minorities from voting.

In a letter to the Justice Department, the civil rights groups ask that the Justice Department not to pre-clear the law. Advancement Project Co-director Judith Brown Dianis said the measure “is part of the largest legislative effort to turn back the clock on voting rights in our nation in over a century.” The letter was submitted by the Advancement Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Justice Center and the Southwest Workers Union.

You can see the letter here, and the Advancement Project’s press release here. I urge you to read both, because there’s a ton of information in there about just how burdensome the new law would be if it gets precleared, and how the effect would fall disproportionately on minorities. I was on a conference call on Thursday night with Christina Sanders and Denise Lieberman of the Advancement Project, and one of the things they mentioned was that there are an estimated 600,000 registered voters who do not currently have a form of ID that will be acceptable under the law. For many of these people, obtaining such ID will be nearly impossible, because there are many counties in Texas that do not have a fulltime DPS office; in some cases, people will have to travel up to 80 miles to get to the closest office. That’s a mighty tall order if you don’t have a driver’s license.

Another group that will be disproportionately affected is students. The League of Young Voters Education Project discusses that aspect of the law and the complaint to DOJ.

[On September 8], the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc. and the League of Young Voters Education Fund issued a joint letter urging the Attorney General to reject Texas’s proposed photo identification law. The organizations argue that Texas has not met its burden under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of showing either that this proposed voting change will not be harmful to minority voters, or that its adoption was free of discriminatory purpose.

“As our letter explains, Texas’s proposed photo ID measure, which does not permit the use of a government-issued student identification card as an acceptable form of identification at the polls, would disfranchise students who only possess student identification,” said Christina Sanders, State Director for the Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund.

This is especially true for many African-American students at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black university located in Waller County, who have been the target of multiple efforts to deny their votes over the years. The League of Young Voters Education Fund collected statements from dozens of students at Prairie View confirming that the proposed photo ID law will disfranchise them.

It is noteworthy that these new burdens have been imposed against the backdrop of an unfortunate history of discouraging student voting at Prairie View A&M. For more than three decades, Waller County has repeatedly sought to prevent students at Prairie View A&M from participating in the electoral process. Litigation from the late 1970s—including a decision from the Supreme Court —barred Waller County’s efforts to block Prairie View A&M students from voting in local elections. Nonetheless, in the 1990s and 2000s, local officials indicted students, or threatened them with prosecution, for voting in such elections.

“Students have a right to vote where they attend school,” Sanders said. “We are urging the Department of Justice to stand in the gap to protect their voting rights. We cannot afford to ignore this real threat to their voting rights—a threat to their access to the ballot is a threat to everyone’s access to the ballot.”

Although Texas’s purported rationale for the photo ID Law is to prevent fraud, there is absolutely no record of voter fraud with respect to in-person voting in Texas.

“It’s a lie. It’s not true. It does not exist,” said Royal Masset, former Political Director of the Republican Party of Texas.

Yes, that’s the other thing to remember. This law is supposed to fight a kind of fraud that quite simply does not exist. Attorney General Greg Abbott spent two years and millions of dollars looking for voter impersonation cases, and the best he could come up with were a couple of limp instances of questionable behavior with absentee ballots, which are out of scope of the new law. The real purpose, of course, is to suppress the vote of certain Democratic-leaning constituencies, and one hopes that the DOJ will object and prevent the law’s implementation. We’ll have an answer from them by September 23.

UPDATE: See this Roll Call story for some more background.

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