Forget the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. After the historic setback for Texas and 25 other states that had challenged the constitutionality of the federal law critics call Obamacare, on Monday the legal team of state Attorney Greg Abbott is back in Washington for another big fight. This time in a lower federal court to defend the merits of a pending Texas law that, if upheld, would require voters across the state show government-issued photo identification before casting a ballot. Here we go again. Although thanks to the weeklong trial the public might have a better idea how serious voter fraud is in Texas — opponents of the voter ID law say it isn’t — the deep racial divide which highlighted last year’s session of the Texas Legislature might be in full display again when supporters and opponents of the legislation take the stand. This is not an exaggeration. It is hard to think of another way to describe the racial tensions this measure triggered when the Republican-dominated body passed it over the strong objections of the Democratic minority.
Republicans, who are predominantly white, said the law is needed to secure the integrity of the electoral process. But Democratic lawmakers, most of whom are Hispanics and African-Americans, countered that Senate Bill 14 is a legislative maneuver to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Texas voters — mainly among the elderly, the poor and non-whites — who lack photo identification and have trouble getting it. Also, despite what Abbott and supporters of the law claim, there’s been hardly any voter fraud in Texas to justify the legislation, Democratic legislators argued during heated debates.
Moreover, for some voter ID opponents, particularly those old enough to remember the Jim Crow era, the legislation is reminiscent of the days before Congress passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act when non-whites faced obstacles — mainly the poll tax — if they wanted to exercise their right to vote.