Now facing a Department of Justice lawsuit, the state of Texas has a familiar adversary in its effort to defend a voter ID law that represents the height of expensive political grandstanding. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that he is joining other court challenges to the law, which was struck down as discriminatory by one federal court but then cleared to go under a broader Supreme Court ruling this summer on the Voting Rights Act. This newspaper hopes the new challenges to the ill-conceived law prevail. Reactions from top elected Texas officials to Holder’s lawsuit reek of irony. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst complained that there is “no end to the tricks the Obama administration will play to undermine Texas.” Actually, it was the GOP-dominated Legislature in 2011 that undermined years of Texas tradition honoring the county-issued voter certificate at the polls. In substituting five different types of government photo IDs, lawmakers used the pretext that they were fighting rampant voter fraud, a lame excuse then and now for passing what federal judges called the strictest voter ID provisions in the nation. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott decried Holder’s political motivations in siding with Democratic groups, and we aren’t blind to those bedfellows. But neither were we blind to the utter failure by Republicans in the Legislature to prove their contention that long-standing Texas election laws were widely exploited by voter impersonators at the polls.
Striving to defend the need for the voter ID law, Abbott’s broadside at Holder mentioned a Brownsville woman recently arrested for allegedly casting five votes in one election. He didn’t mention that her scheme, according to the FBI, involved absentee ballots, not a voter ID conspiracy to trick poll workers and cast fraudulent ballots on Election Day.
Republican lawmakers all but proclaimed a crisis to justify support for the law, which has turned into a growth industry for special-interest and government lawyers, including counsel representing Dallas County. A U.S. District Court judge in Corpus Christi will sort through the thicket of claims.
The backdrop of the case includes a unanimous finding from a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., last year that the Texas voter ID law places “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor,” who are more likely to be racial minorities.
The D.C. panel ruled that Texas went beyond reasonable safeguards used in other states and ignored options that would have improved access and limited the costs involved in obtaining an approved ID.
In the meantime, the new photo ID provisions have already been applied this month in early-voting balloting in assorted local elections across Texas. No cataclysms have been reported, nor would we expect any in low-turnout balloting. Then again, there wasn’t a problem to begin with.