Friday, October 7, 2011

Texas SOS Responds To US DOJ On Voter Photo ID Law Clearance

The back and forth between the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) Civil Rights Division's voting rights section, the Texas Secretary of State's (TXSOS) office, the Texas Democratic Party and various organizations opposed to the legislation continued this week over the strict voting photo identification law signed by Republican presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry last May.

All IDs must be unexpired or expired no earlier than 60 days before the election. Acceptable identification includes:
  • A driver’s license, election ID certificate, or personal ID card issued by the Department of Public Safety (an election certificate issued to a person 70 years or older does not expire);
  • U.S. military ID card that contains the person's photograph;
  • U.S. citizenship certificate with a photograph;
  • U.S. passport; or
  • A license to carry a concealed handgun.
Student IDs and Military Veteran IDs are not accepted in Texas for purposes of identification for voting.

Source Texas SOS Election Advisory No. 2011-10

Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade wrote a letter to T. Christian Herren Jr., the chief of the USDOJ Civil Rights Division's voting section, on July 25th applying for pre-clearance of the state's new voter photo ID law, as required by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

In July, 16 senators sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling for the USDOJ to examine whether the strict voter photo ID laws violate the Voting Rights Act.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chair of the Democratic National Committee, has also been sounding the alarm on the new voting laws since she became Chair of Democratic National Committee in May.

During August and September, various organizations wrote letters to Attorney General Eric Holder asking the USDOJ to reject Texas' pre-clearance application.

On September 23rd, the last day of the 60 response period, Herren replied to Andrade's pre-clearance application letter. Herren's reply said in his reply that the USDOJ did not receive adequate information in the state's application for pre-clearance to determine if the proposed changes would negatively affect minority groups and requested specific information about Texas' implementation of the voting photo identification law.

This week, Andrade sent a letter back to Herren saying the state does not collect race information from voters, and so, can not answer all of the USDOJ's specific questions concerning the affect Texas' implementation of the voting photo identification law might have on minority groups.

The TXSOS instead returned to the USDOJ a list of all the Hispanic surnames in Texas, as recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau and offered to check that list against the list of registered voters to determine how many voters have Hispanic names.

The TXSOS also returned to the USDOJ a spreadsheet showing how many registered voters reside in each county, as of Sept. 16, showing the number of voters who did not provide an ID when they registered to vote, how many voters did not provide an ID, but whose records matched an ID record in the state's Dept. of Safety's (DPS) database, which means the DPS had issued an ID to those individuals, and people who did not provide an ID on their voter registration application and could not be matched with a DPS record.

The most recent data the TXSOS sent to the USDOJ gives additional details on the voter data the TXSOS sent informing the USDOJ on September 7th that 605,576 registered Texas voters do not appear to have a Texas driver’s license or other current form of photo identification issued by the DPS. It is likely that additional numbers of voting age U.S. citizens living in Texas, who are not currently registered vote, also do not possess one of the required government issued photo ID documents. Adding people not registered to vote to the 605,576 registered Texas voters, who do not appear to have photo identification, likely increases the number potential voters who lack photo ID by at least several hundred thousand.

The most resent data sent to the USDOJ shows that as many as a quarter of voters in some small Texas counties might not have any of the required government issued photo ID documents, and therefore, will not be able to cast ballots in elections after January 1, 2012. The data reveals that in 27 of Texas' 254 counties, at least 10 percent of the registered voters might be unable to cast ballots.

In Presidio County in Southwest Texas as many as 25.9 of registered voters might not have the required photo ID, which will block as many as 1,313 out of the 5,066 registered voters from casting ballots in any election.

The USDOJ also asked the TXSOS to reply specific information about the voter education program the state is required to implement to educate voters about the new requirements as required in a 2008 SCOTUS decision on voter photo ID requirements. The TXSOS replied with details contained in a request for proposals (RFP) to implement a “statewide voter education program.” According to the RFP that statewide program will include instruction on how to register to vote, how to cast a ballot, polling place procedures and photo ID requirements. Andrade reply to Herren says, in part, that:

Photo identification requirements will be fully integrated into the existing training regime in a similar fashion as the current voter identification requirements. In addition, the DPS website will have information about the election identification certificate and how people can obtain the card.

On September 15, 2011, the State provided a draft of proposed administrative rules developed by the Texas Department of Public (DPS) regarding the election identification certificate program. The Department has initiated the administrative rulemaking process regarding the election identification certificate. The following is a projected timeline for the process:
  • September 27, 2011 – Proposed rules approved by Public Safety Commission (PSC) for publication in the Texas Register;
  • October 3, 2011 – Rules will be submitted to the Texas Register by the Monday, noon deadline for the October 14th issue;
  • October 14, 2011 – Proposed rules published in the October 14, 2011 issue of the Texas Register;
  • November 14, 2011 – 30-day Comment period expires;
  • November 17, 2011 – The Public Safety Commission has not yet determined a date for their November meeting. However, meetings are often scheduled for the third Thursday of the month. If the November Public Safety Commission meeting is set for the third Thursday, that will be November 17, 2011. This would be the earliest point in time the rules could be adopted and approved for publication.
  • November 18, 2011 (or the day following the November Public Safety Commission meeting) the rules will be submitted to the Texas Register for publication
  • December 8, 2011 – Rules become effective (twenty (20) days following submission for publication)

If the Department receives a high volume of public comments or a request for a public hearing, this could possibly delay the presentation of the rules for adoption at the November PSC meeting. In that event, the rules would be placed on the agenda for the December PSC meeting. No date has been set for the December 2011 meeting. After the rules are adopted and approved for publication by the PSC, they are submitted to the Texas Register. The rules become effective twenty (20) days following submission for publication. If the rules are adopted in the December meeting, they will not be effective by January 1, 2012. However, this will not impede the initiation of the election identification certificate issuance program on January 1, 2012.

The Texas Democratic Party, released a statement Wednesday critical of the TXSOS's response to the Department of Justice. "The fact that they refuse to even try sure makes it seem like they’ve got something to hide, like how many of those voters who lack government issued photo identification are African American and Asian," the party statement said.

The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law released a study this week that finds that up to five million voters from traditionally Democratic demographics lack the required photo ID documents creating a significant barrier to voting for the 2012 presidential election.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) this week launched the "2012 Election Protection Project" to preserve ballot access for voters who have been eligible to vote in past elections, but who may be blocked from voting in 2012

October 4 2011 Additional Information Response on SB 14

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