When Texas voters are asked to show a photo ID at the polls in January, they will join voters in 29 other states that have adopted voter identification requirements — but only six of which require photo identification.
The Legislature passed the controversial requirement during the regular session that ended in May. Because of Texas’ history of racial discrimination, section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act gives the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal courts the authority to review laws that would affect voter participation before they are enacted. Before the change in law, Texas voters could show a voter registration certificate or another document, such as a utility bill, that listed their name but didn’t necessarily have a photo on it.
Luis Figueroa, staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the Texas Secretary of State sent the U.S. Department of Justice its petition for pre-clearance on July 25. The agency could receive the department’s report by late September. The state attorney general’s office will likely not become involved in the process unless the federal government challenges the legality of the law’s new requirements, Figueroa said.
The law in Texas didn’t change easily. In 2009, the matter led to a legislative meltdown that killed not only the voter ID measure but hundreds of other bills, too. The issue divided Republicans and Democrats. Republicans said the stricter requirements would ensure integrity at the ballot box. Democrats said there is little or no voter fraud in Texas, and the bill would make it harder for minorities, the poor, the elderly and the disabled — those who are less likely to have driver’s licenses — to vote.