People who say there shouldn’t be such a fuss over the Texas voter ID law are so sweetly naive. It’s no big deal, they say. We get asked to show a driver’s license all the time, from when we write a check or pay for something with a credit or debit card to when we check in at the doctor’s office. We do it without a second thought to show we are who we say we are. We’ve always been far more willing to provide information about ourselves to the phone company or a 16-year-old grocery store clerk than we have been to give that same information to the government. And the helpful volunteer poll worker asking for an ID, nice lady that she is, symbolizes government just as the president and Congress do. But voting is so important. Shouldn’t we be willing to go the extra mile to protect the integrity of the ballot box from people, even though they may be few, who would misrepresent themselves and deliver a candidate some dishonest votes? Maybe. That’s what a panel of judges from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has been asked to decide. A trial date has been set for July 9.
There are reasons to worry that the issue won’t be ready for trial by that date. If not, the voter ID law probably won’t be in effect for the Nov. 6 general election, when the ballot will include races for president, U.S. Senate, 36 seats in the U.S. House, statewide races for judgeships and the Railroad Commission, 31 seats in the Texas Senate, 150 in the Texas House and countywide races across the state. It is a big deal, and the issues the judges will examine are weighty. At its heart is a worry, expressed mainly by Democrats, that the requirement to show a government-issued photo ID at the polling place could disenfranchise some voters, including the rural poor.
After the Legislature approved the voter ID law last year, the Justice Department declined to pre-clear it for future elections, a step required by Voting Rights Act. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott took the case to the D.C. District Court. There was a concern about whether the preclearance requirement in the Voting Rights Act is constitutional. Previously in the law’s almost 47-year history, that provision has been upheld by the courts and retained by Congress as a legitimate barrier against discrimination.