Imani Clark, Aurica Washington, Crystal Owens and Michelle Bessiake are students at Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern University, two historically black colleges in Texas. They do not have a driver’s license or own a car, and do not possess one of the five forms of government-issued identification required by Texas to vote. They can no longer vote with their students IDs in Texas, where a handgun permit is a valid voter ID but a student ID is not. The four students are among the plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of Texas’s voter ID law in federal court in Corpus Christi this week. The trial before Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, an Obama appointee, is expected to last two to three weeks. In August 2012, a three-judge district court in Washington found that the law discriminated against black and Hispanic voters under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The court called it “the most stringent [voter ID law] in the country.” But after the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder freed states like Texas with a long history of voting discrimination from having to approve their voting changes with the federal government, Texas wasted no time in implementing the blocked law. “With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced hours after the court’s ruling. Groups like the Justice Department, NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus are now challenging the law under Section 2 of the VRA, which remains on the books.
During the first round of court proceedings, Texas admitted that between 600,000 to 800,000 registered voters in the state lacked a government-issued photo ID, with Hispanic voters between 46.5 percent to 120 percent more likely than whites to not have the new voter ID. Those without a voter ID needed to pay for additional documentation to confirm their identities, with the cheapest option being a birth certificate for $22. Attorney General Eric Holder called it a “poll tax.”
Getting a voter ID in Texas isn’t as easy as you’d think. There are no DMV offices in eighty-one of 254 counties in the state, with some voters needing to travel up to 250 miles to obtain a voter ID. Counties with a significant Hispanic population are less likely to have a DMV office, while Hispanic residents in such counties are twice as likely as whites to not have a voter ID. (Hispanics in Texas are also twice as likely as whites to not have a car). So far, Texas has issued only 279 new voter IDs, even though hundreds of thousands of registered voters lack one.