Fig leaves are often draped over controversial laws coming out of the Republican-dominated legislature in Texas. But when a judge takes a closer look, the reality of the legislation tends to be laid bare fairly quickly. In March, Texas’s solicitor general struggled, during a hearing at the Supreme Court, to explain how onerous regulations that have closed three-quarters of the state’s abortion clinics are actually a boon to women’s reproductive health. And despite repeated losses in federal courts, the Lone Star state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, stands resolutely by a 2011 voter-identification law that could keep 600,000 minority and young Texans away from the polls in November. The law, Mr Paxton says, is necessary to protect the integrity of elections. On May 2nd, the Supreme Court signalled it may step in to evaluate that counterintuitive proposition if a lower court does not resolve the matter by July 20th.
New voter-ID laws have come to much of America over the past decade. Eighteen states request a photo ID to vote (though nine of those permit alternative forms of identification in a pinch), while a non-photo ID is acceptable in 15 more. In 17 states, including New York and California, voters can pull the lever without showing any document at all. Red states tend to flash the red light at the polls, and the rules in Texas are the strictest in the country. In order to exercise the franchise, Texans must produce one of seven forms of identification, including a Texas driver’s licence, passport, military ID or election identification certificate (issued to applicants who have documents confirming their citizenship and eligibility to vote). University IDs don’t count, but gun licences do. People who show up empty-handed on election day may still vote, but their ballot will be destroyed unless they pay a visit to the registrar’s office within six days to prove their identity with one of the acceptable forms of identification. There are very few exceptions: only voters with religious objections to having their photo taken and those who are disabled or are victims of a natural disaster may vote without identification. So, “my licence was ripped apart in a tornado” could get you into the voting booth, but “I’m a college kid with an out-of-state driver’s licence and an ID from the University of Texas” will not.