Two weeks ago, Texas’ voter ID law was discriminatory. This week, it’s still discriminatory, just for slightly different reasons. On Aug. 5 – the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act – the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued the latest ruling in the seemingly endless cycle of appeals against Texas’ 2011 voter ID law. The state of Texas was appealing a 2014 ruling by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos (see “Judge Throws Out Texas Voter ID Law,” Oct. 10, 2014) throwing the law out on three grounds: 1) that it discriminated against minority voters; 2) that it was purposefully discriminatory; and 3) that a costly photo ID made it a de facto poll tax. But in an opinion authored by Judge Catharina Haynes, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit took a different tack.
First, they vacated the ruling that this was a poll tax, since the state will provide an Election Identification Certificate for free. Second, they vacated the ruling that the bill was purposefully written to be discriminatory, and remanded that back to Ramos’ court for further consideration. But third, and most importantly, they upheld Ramos’ ruling that, deliberate or not, Texas had suppressed minority voters.
Cue a quick response from Democrats: “Tell us something we didn’t already know.” Moreover, they say, they have the numbers to prove it. A recent study by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and the University of Houston Hobby Center for Public Policy found that 13% of nonvoters in Congressional District 23 stayed home in the Nov. 2014 elections because they did not believe they had the necessary ID – though in fact, most did. Hobby Center Director Jim Granato called for more study of “not just the voter photo ID law itself, but the actual education and outreach efforts to ensure all eligible voters understand what form of photo ID may be used to vote.”