The 2014 election in Texas illuminated the burdens of voter-ID laws. Because of the law—the strictest in the country—many longtime voters were turned away from the polls and unable to vote. The Texas voter ID law is once again before a court on Tuesday, when the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will consider whether to uphold a lower-court decision striking down the law as an “unconstitutional poll tax.” The debate over voter ID in Texas is like a bad movie that never ends. A federal district court first blocked the law in 2012, a decision that stood until the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act a year later, freeing states like Texas from having to approve their voting changes with the federal government.
Following a lengthy trial, the law was struck down for a second time in October 2014 by Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the Southern District of Texas, who found that 608,470 registered voters in Texas lacked the required voter ID, with blacks and Hispanics two to three times more likely than whites not to have one. She found that the Texas legislature passed the measure “because of and not merely in spite of the voter ID law’s detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate.” Ramos’s ruling had significance far beyond Texas—her finding that the law was purposefully discriminatory meant that the state could once again have to clear its voting changes with the federal government.
That decision stood for only five days before the conservative Fifth Circuit reinstated the law for the 2014 election, faulting Ramos for blocking it so close to the election. The Supreme Court affirmed the appeals-court decision three weeks before the election—the first since 1982 that the Court had declined to block a voting measure deemed intentionally discriminatory by a trial court.