When the U.S. Justice Department last week blocked South Carolina’s new voter ID law because of possible discrimination against minorities, attention quickly focused on Texas, which passed similar legislation this year.
Tentatively set to go into effect Sunday, the Texas law requires that a valid photo ID be presented at the polls along with a voter registration card. The accepted forms of identification are: Texas driver’s license, Texas election ID (issued by the Department of Public Safety), a personal identification card from the DPS, a Texas concealed handgun license, U.S. military ID card, U.S. citizenship certificate or U.S. passport.
In rejecting South Carolina’s law, the Justice Department used the state’s own data to show that tens of thousands of residents did not possess the required photo IDs, and that nonwhite voters would be most burdened under the statute.
Federal officials have asked Texas for more information regarding 600,000 registered voters whose names are not in state databases of residents with valid driver’s licenses or state-issued ID cards. That has some state officials bracing for a legal fight with the federal government, and state Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office said this week that he is prepared “to take all necessary legal action to defend” the new law.
Of the five states that passed voter ID bills this year, Texas and South Carolina — because of a history of past discrimination against minority voters — must have pre-clearance from the Justice Department before instituting new procedures.
Both cases are likely to be headed for the Supreme Court, which in 2008 voted 6-3 to uphold an Indiana law requiring voters to present state- or U.S. government-issued photo ID that includes a name that conforms with the one on the voter registration card and an expiration date that shows the ID is current or expired after the last general election.
Some of the same arguments presented in that case were debated in the Texas and South Carolina legislatures and by political operatives of both major parties. Supporters say it is important to protect against voter fraud, safeguarding one of our fundamental constitutional rights.
Opponents, calling it “voter suppression,” claim the law will disenfranchise thousands of poor, elderly and minority individuals who don’t possess the required IDs.
Proponents haven’t proved there’s widespread voter fraud, especially the kind of “voter impersonation” that these laws specifically are designed to prevent. In the Indiana case, Justice David Souter, writing for the minority, said the state made no justification for the statute.