Supporters and opponents of a Texas law requiring specific forms of photo identification for voters faced close questioning in a federal appeals court Tuesday on whether the law was meant to discriminate against minorities and whether there are ways to remedy it. The U.S. Justice Department and others oppose the law as an unconstitutional burden on minority voters. The state of Texas says the law was aimed at preventing fraud. The state is appealing a federal district judge’s ruling last October that struck down the law. Judge Catharina Haynes, one of three judges hearing the Texas case at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, suggested in questioning that the matter should perhaps be sent back to the district court for further consideration. She noted that the Texas Legislature currently has several bills that that could broaden the number and types of ID voters could use to cast ballots.
Haynes also noted that a statewide election took place in Texas last year under the requirements of the new law, which was being enforced while the appeal was pending. “Shouldn’t we look at the last election?” she asked Erin Flynn of the Justice Department. Flynn argued otherwise. “Turnout number doesn’t capture the deterrent and suppressive effect that a voter ID law has,” she said.
The law requires voters to provide one of seven kinds of photo identification to cast a ballot. Four are available from the state Department of Public Safety — driver’s licenses, personal IDs, concealed-handgun permits, and election identification certificates. Federally issued passports, citizenship certificates and military IDs also are acceptable.
Opponents said the old law required an ID — with or without a photo — such as a voter registration card, a utility bill, a bank statement or a paystub that identified the voter and the voter’s address. They said fraud was rare and actual incidents of voters showing up at a poll pretending to be someone else were virtually nonexistent. They also complained about the exclusion of some photo IDs, including federal or state employee IDs and college student IDs.