Voter ID in Texas violates the Voting Rights Act, and the state must develop new rules before the November election. That was the definitive statement in a majority opinion, nine to six, issued by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last week. But don’t put your driver’s license away quite yet. While the court has ruled that the current state rules are in the wrong, no one knows what the replacement rules will look like. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said, “We don’t know very much. The takeaway is that we don’t know what to do.” The core issue was the strict photo ID requirements passed in 2011’s Senate Bill 14, which have been facing legal challenges for half a decade. In 2012, the Justice Department blocked implementation of the rules, and then the state lost its first major defense in 2014, when U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos found that the law did indeed suppress minority voters. The majority opinion of the 5th Circuit’s 15-member appeals bench upheld the core ruling of the lower court, and instructed it to create interim rules in time for the November 8 general election.
This is the latest ruling in a case that has seen the law bounce as far as the U.S. Supreme Court and back down again. So for now, when it comes to the upcoming November election, the court actually rejected two of the claims made by the plaintiffs (a diverse group including the League of United Latin American Citizens and Congressman Marc Veasey, D-Ft. Worth), and upheld a third.
Normally, scoring one out of three is pretty poor, but in this case the plaintiffs have plenty of reasons to be happy. The appeals court found that it’s not just that the current law has left over 600,000 registered voters in Texas without the right documentation to exercise their constitutional right: it’s that the rules have a disproportionate impact on minority voters. In total, 4.5% of all registered voters in the state lack a suitable government-issued photo ID; however, that figure drops to 2% for white residents, rises to 6% for Hispanic residents, and a startling 8% among African-Americans voters. Moreover, the ruling castigated the state for its “lackluster educational efforts” in informing voters on what they needed.