When Texas passed its new voter-identification law, in 2011, the Republicans who dominate state politics rejoiced. This, they said, would help guarantee “the integrity of state elections”. Nonsense, said Democrats, who accuse Republicans of using voter-ID laws to make it harder for poor people and minorities to vote. Republicans retort that electoral fraud is real. In 2012 Texas’s attorney-general, Greg Abbott, boasted that his office had caught more than 50 cheats between 2002 and 2012. That is not a big number, among the more than 13m registered voters in Texas. But it is not nothing. In November Texans (at least, those with a state-issued photo ID) had their first chance to vote since the law was implemented. The delay was caused by the usual legal wrangling round voter-ID laws. In 2012 a federal court blocked Texas’s law from taking effect. Similarly strict regulations were already in place elsewhere, but under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 Texas was subject to federal “preclearance” on any new voting rules. “Preclearance” is a sort of naughty step for states that, in the past, have hindered voting by minorities. The Texan law was therefore in limbo until June, when the Supreme Court addressed the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v Holder, a dispute between an Alabama county and the attorney-general of the United States, Eric Holder.
The court held that the preclearance requirement was constitutional in itself, but that the formula used to establish preclearance had to be binned. It had not been revised since 1975, and therefore punished states for the sins of officials who retired long ago. Texas first came under preclearance because the 1975 revision added a note about jurisdictions that provided voter information only in English, despite having a lot of Spanish speakers. Yet Texas has changed dramatically in the past four decades. It is much less bigoted and more Hispanic: no sane candidate today would fail to produce Spanish campaign ads.
The effect of the Shelby County ruling was that all the states and parts of states that had been subject to preclearance were freed to make their own electoral rules, at least for now. In theory, Congress has the authority to amend the law with a new preclearance requirement; in theory, Congress can do a lot of things. Democrats are worried. Mr Holder promises to bring Texas back under federal oversight. Under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, he argues, judges can order that jurisdictions with egregiously burdensome rules can be forcibly enrolled in the preclearance club.
In the meantime, the results of the November elections in Texas surprised both sides. More than 1.1m Texans voted: turnout was two-thirds higher than in the previous off-year election. Whatever Democrats say, that hardly suggests widespread voter suppression. Republicans note that it is not hard to get a photo ID: Texans without driving licences can get voter-ID cards free from the state. Or they can use their concealed-handgun licence, naturally.
Full Article: Voter identification: Mischief at the polls | The Economist.