For students at Prairie View A&M, a historically black university about an hour’s drive from Houston, the right to vote has never come easy. In the early 1970s—soon after 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds gained the franchise—the Waller County voting registrar began requiring that students answer questions about their employment status, property ownership, and other issues before they could be added to the rolls. He was stopped by a federal court, in a key ruling for student voting rights. A few years later, local officials tried to move school-board elections from April to August, making it harder for Prairie View students to vote—a scheme that was blocked by the Justice Department. Then in 2004, the local prosecutor sent a letter to election administrators saying Prairie View students weren’t automatically eligible to vote at their college address, and threatening the possibility of arrest, before backing down amid an outcry. That same year, the county tried to cut early voting hours on campus—again, it was stopped by the federal government. And in 2008, the county acknowledged in a settlement with the Bush Justice Department that it had rejected voter registration applications in violation of federal voting law, primarily affecting Prairie View students.
Now, there’s a new threat: Texas’s strict voter ID law, which is being challenged by the U.S. Justice Department and civil rights groups in a major voting rights case set to go before U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos Tuesday in a sleepy federal building in Corpus Christi. The measure has already been struck down as racially discriminatory, but it went into effect all the same last June after the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
Imani Clark, an African-American Prairie View student and a plaintiff in the case, voted in the November 2012 election using her student ID. But the ID law that has since gone into effect bars student IDs, and Clark, who doesn’t drive, lacks any of the forms of identification allowed under the measure, known as SB 14.
At stake in the case is access to the ballot for hundreds of thousands of Texans—disproportionately minorities or students or both, like Clark—who don’t have acceptable ID. That means it could play a role in the state’s heated race for governor, in which Democratic State Sen. Wendy Davis will need a massive turnout from non-white and young voters to have even an outside shot against Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott—whose office is defending the law in court. Longer term, a ruling upholding the law figures to hugely complicate an aggressive effort by Democrats and their allies, helped by a demographic wave, to turn this deep-red state purple.
Full Article: Sky-high stakes in Texas voter ID trial | MSNBC.