Monday, January 23, 2012

Texas A.G. Greg Abbott Sues USDOJ To Get Voter ID Implemented

The Texas attorney general’s office today filed suit against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice to have the state’s controversial voter photo ID law implemented without further delay.

When the U.S. Justice Department blocked South Carolina's new voter ID law on December 23, 2011, because of possible discrimination against minorities, attention quickly focused on Texas, which passed nearly identical photo ID legislation in 2011.

Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department or a federal court is required to pre-clear laws affecting voters in jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination, including Texas and South Carolina. The Texas Secretary of State’s Office sought preclearance from the Justice Department on July 25, 2011, but the agency is still holding the matter under review.

Originally set to go into effect on January 1, 2012, the Texas law would require voters to present one of a limited selection of government issued photo IDs to election Judges in order to qualify to vote. The accepted forms of currently dated photo identification are: Department of Public Safety issued Texas driver's license, Texas election ID , or personal identification card; Texas concealed handgun license; U.S. military ID card; U.S. citizenship certificate; or U.S. passport.

On Thursday, January 12, 2012, the Texas secretary of state’s office sent minority voter photo ID information to the U.S. Department of Justice that the USDOJ had requested last September and again on November 16, 2011.

The Secretary of State filed its original request for preclearance with the USDOJ in July, but the USDOJ in September requested more information on the 605,576 registered Texas voters who, according to the Texas SOS, do not appear to have a Texas driver’s license or personal photo ID card.

If Texas had not returned the requested information to the USDOJ by Monday, January 16, 2012, the USDOJ would likely have rejected Texas request for preclearance of Senate Bill 14 - Texas' voter photo ID legislation. The USDOJ had up to 60 additional days from January 12th to review the recently submitted information before rendering a decision to approve or block the law. It was widely thought the justice department would ultimately block Texas' ID law.

Apparently, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott decided to act before the USDOJ rejected Texas' restrictive photo ID law for the same reasons the justice department blocked South Carolina's new voter ID law.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter identification laws are constitutional,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a prepared statement. “Texas should be allowed the same authority other states have to protect the integrity of elections. To fast-track that authority, Texas is taking legal action in a D.C. court seeking approval of its voter identification law.”

“Even if DOJ contends that (the Texas law) has the unintended effect of ‘denying’ or ‘abridging’ the voting rights of those who do not possess a government-issued photo identification, it does not do so on account of their race or color - it does so on account of their decision not to obtain the identification that the state offers free of charge,” the lawsuit said.

Why the "identification that the state offers free of charge" can cost a substantial amount of money to obtain -> "War On Terror 'Real ID' Driver's License Federal Law Meets State Voter Photo ID."

The Texas complaint also seeks relieve under the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Gov. Perry has often referenced the Tenth Amendment claiming "states' rights" on a variety of issues.

“General Abbott knows in-person voter fraud doesn’t exist,” Texas Democratic Party spokesperson Rebecca Acuña said. “He already cost Texas taxpayers $1.4 million on a wild goose chase that turned up no cases of voter impersonation. Our question to General Abbott is, if there are no cases of voter impersonation, then what exactly is this legislation’s purpose? The absolute intent of this law is to disenfranchise voters.”

Just last week, at a MLK day event in South Carolina, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke critically of voter photo ID legislation, such as Texas Gov. Perry signed last May. Holder vowed to protect voters’ rights.

Last December, Attorney General Eric Holder chose the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, as the site of a forceful speech on voting rights. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) into law on August 6, 1965, establishing federal Department of Justice oversight of election laws passed by certain southern states with a history of discrimination. (video of Holder's speech)

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled 6-3 in its 2008 Crawford v.Marion County Election Bd., 553 U.S. 181, decision (findlaw) that Indiana's 2005 strict voter photo ID law is constitutional. Texas' voter photo ID law is nearly identical to Indiana's voter photo ID law.

After hearing arguments of voter disenfranchisement, which were nearly identical to some of the arguments that opponents of Texas' 2011 photo ID law have made to the USDOJ over the last several months, Justices Stevens, Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas and Alito said in their 2008 majority opinion that those arguments do not provide concrete proof that Indiana's photo ID law constitutes either a burden to voting or an intentional discriminatory barrier to voting. The majority opinion further said that states have a “valid interest in protecting ‘the integrity and reliability of the electoral process.’” (AP story)

A bit of historical context: In 2008, the Bush administration joined the state of Indiana to argue before the Supreme Court in a successful defense of that state’s voter photo ID law, the country’s first. At the leading edge of what has since become a national movement, Indiana enacted its law in 2005 with the support of every Republican in the state Legislature; no Democrat voted for it. While rejecting the challenge to the statute, the Supreme Court was nonetheless constrained to note that while the law was aimed preventing “in-person voter impersonation at polling places,” the record of the case “contains no evidence of any such fraud actually occurring in Indiana at any time in its history.”

Unfortunately for the plaintiffs in the Indiana case, the record also failed to identify any particular individual on whom the new law had placed a burden – not surprisingly because, seeking to block enforcement, the lawsuit challenged the statute “on its face,” before it took effect. To the Bush administration, this was the lawsuit’s fatal flaw; the plaintiffs “have utterly failed to show that the Voter ID law has had a discriminatory impact on any segment of society,” Paul D. Clement, then the solicitor general, told the justices in his brief.

The USDOJ will likely take a different tack in arguing the case before the D.C. District and Supreme courts this time around.

Of the eight states that passed voter ID bills last year, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas -- because of a history of past discrimination against minority voters -- must have preclearance from the Justice Department before instituting new procedures. Under Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department reserves the right to review laws that affect voter participation before they are enacted.

The four other states enacting voter photo ID laws in 2011, which are not covered by the Voting Rights Act preclearance requirement, are Kansas, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty filed a federal lawsuit in December charging that Wisconsin’s voter photo ID law is unconstitutional and will deprive citizens of their basic right to vote.

Mississippi adopted its photo ID law by voter referendum in November 2011 as an amendment to the state Constitution.

Indiana and Georgia were already enforcing strict voter photo ID laws for the 2008 presidential election.

In 2011, governors vetoed bills passed by legislatures in Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, and North Carolina.

Research conducted by Campus Progress reveals that the states that recently passed Voter ID legislation had American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) members as co-sponsors of the legislation. ALEC is a DC-based non-profit organization that brings together state legislators and corporations to promote conservative policies.

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