Texas’ voter ID law, cast as the strictest in the nation, will be substantially watered down during November’s election after a federal judge Wednesday approved a deal that allows those lacking required identification to cast a ballot by signing an affidavit.
U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos agreed to terms worked out between Texas and several minority groups, which requires the state to spend $2.5 million on a voter education campaign. Ramos also ordered that Texas allow the groups suing have input on the state’s outreach efforts.
Under the approved deal, acceptable identifications were expanded to include voter registration cards, birth certificates, utility bills, paycheck stubs and government documents with the voter’s name and address.
Along with one of the alternate IDs, voters will also have to sign an affidavit and check a box saying why they were unable to obtain one of the identifications required under the law. The deal also provides safeguards to prevent poll workers and election officials from questioning Texans lacking identification at the ballot box.
Democrats said the Republican-controlled Legislature could have provided protections for voters lacking necessary identification to still be allowed to cast ballots but opted instead to pass a bill that has been mired in litigation for years.
“This fix will provide welcome relief to the 600,000 Texas voters who have been disenfranchised by the state’s discriminatory voter ID law,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat and the chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, which is a plaintiff in the case, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we need not have waited three years or spent millions of taxpayer dollars to get to this point.”
See here, here, and here for the background, and here for the full statement from MALC. The item about the plaintiffs having a say on how the outreach efforts go is a win as well, since they were skeptical about it to begin with.
Lawyers for Texas have disclosed that Burson-Marsteller, a public relations giant and global strategic communications firm with an Austin office, is under contract with the state to develop voter outreach efforts for the current year.
That includes a roughly $2.5 million plan Texas agreed to put in place after a federal appeals court last month found its voter ID measure discriminates against minorities.
Burson-Marsteller is no stranger to helping Texas with voter education plans, contracting with the state as far back as 2006. But Texas’ outreach efforts focused on the controversial photo ID law have been cast as lackluster by minority groups and federal courts, including a plan designed for the 2014 elections by Burson-Marsteller in which the state spent $2 million on an education campaign.
In a court filing last week, Texas said Burson-Marsteller and a subcontractor, Austin-based TKO Advertising, have already consulted with the state to design a “multi-faceted strategy to reach and educate voters” about changes to the voter ID law for the upcoming election. Texas says that plan is ready to be executed.
However, lawyers suing the state said they remain concerned about Texas’ willingness to reach out to voters and to train poll workers — and Burson-Marsteller’s involvement doesn’t help that perception.
“It gives us less confidence,” said Jose Garza, a lawyer for the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, which is a plaintiff in the case. “The state’s historical track record is not a very good one on this issue.”
As that second story notes, the oversight item was one on which the two sides did not agree. It’s not hard to understand why the plaintiffs had their doubts, given the association with previous “outreach” efforts. I’m hopeful this will ensure things go as smoothly as can be expected.
That said, this still isn’t over.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a staunch supporter of the voter ID law, signaled that he won’t give up the case any time soon. The legal battle over what is said to be the nation’s strictest voter ID law has already cost state taxpayers more than $3.5 million.
“This case is not over,” Paxton’s spokesman, Marc Rylander, said in a statement. “Given the time constraints of the November elections and the direction of the Fifth Circuit, today’s order by the district court is an interim remedy that preserves the crucial aspects of the Voter ID law for this November election, while we continue evaluating all options moving forward, including an appeal of the Fifth Circuit’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Seems highly unlikely to me that there are five votes on SCOTUS to overturn the Fifth Circuit decision, but as we know it’s not the winning or losing that motivates Paxton, it’s the rallying of the troops. A glorious defeat works just fine for his purposes. The Lege will take another crack at this next year, though it remains to be seen what that might amount to. I feel pretty confident saying what we have now is what we’ll have in November. Beyond that, we’ll see. The Texas Civil Rights Project has more.