Monday, March 12, 2012

USDOJ Rejects Texas' Voter Photo ID Law

The U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) today rejected Texas' application for preclearance of its voter photo ID law, saying the state did not prove that the bill would not have a discriminatory effect on minority voters.

The department’s letter written by Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez states that Texas did not meet its burden under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of showing that the law will not have a discriminatory effect on minority voters, and therefore the department objects to the Texas voter identification law. According to the state’s own data, registered Hispanic voters are much more likely than registered non-Hispanic voters to not hold a one of the select few government issued photo identification cards.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez wrote in a letter to Keith Ingram, the director of Texas’ elections division:

“As noted above, an applicant for an election identification certificate will have to travel to a driver’s license office. This raises three discrete issues. First, according to the most recent American Community Survey three-year estimates, 7.3 percent of Hispanic or Latino households do not have an available vehicle, as compared with only 3.8 percent of non-Hispanic white households that lack an available vehicle. Statistically significant correlations exist between the Hispanic voting-age population percentage of a county, and the percentage of occupied housing units without a vehicle.

Second, in 81 of the state’s 254 counties, there are no operational driver’s license offices. The disparity in the rates between Hispanics and non-Hispanics with regard to the possession of either a driver’s license or personal identification card issued by DPS is particularly stark in counties without driver’s license offices. According to the September 2011 data, 10.0 percent of Hispanics in counties without driver’s license offices do not have either form of identification, compared to 5.5 percent of non-Hispanics. According to the January 2012 data, that comparison is 14.6 percent of Hispanics in counties without driver’s license offices, as compared to 8.8 percent of non-Hispanics. During the legislative hearings, one senator stated that some voters in his district could have to travel up to 176 miles round trip in order to reach a driver’s license office. The legislature tabled amendments that would have, for example, provided reimbursement to voters who live below the poverty line for travel expenses incurred in applying for the requisite identification.

... Hispanic voters represent only 21.8 percent of the registered voters in the state, Hispanic voters represent fully 29.0 percent of the registered voters without such identification.

...Thus, we conclude that the total number of registered voters who lack a driver’s license or personal identification card issued by DPS could range from 603,892 to 795,955. The disparity between the percentages of Hispanics and non-Hispanics who lack these forms of identification ranges from 46.5 to 120.0 percent. That is, according to the state’s own data, a Hispanic registered voter is at least 46.5 percent, and potentially 120.0 percent, more likely than a non-Hispanic registered voter to lack this identification. Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card issued by DPS, and that disparity is statistically significant.”

There are 34 Texas counties without a DPS office and 47 additional counties where DPS offices have been temporarily closed, according to documents furnished to the Department of Justice. Minorities make up a majority of the population in most of those counties. The line to get a driver’s license at one Houston location is so long, according to State Sen. Tommy Williams, that a guy called in a pizza order, got it delivered to him, and finished eating before he got to the front of the line.

Texas has one of the highest poverty rates in the country, and Texas’ poor are disproportionately among the state's historical minority. The poverty rate for Latinos and African Americans in Texas is an astonishing 24.8% and 23.8%, respectively, compared to only 8.4% for the state's historical majority. Given this context, the proposed photo ID law will likely impose an undue burden on the right to vote and will have a disproportionate impact.

Texas’ history of suppressing the rights of voters of color is long and painful. The new law employs a simple-minded as well as sophisticated tactic to suppress the minority vote. Republicans argue the new law is needed to protect the sanctity of the ballot from unscrupulous voters, but they have yet to provide evidence that widespread fraud has occurred.

Republicans are quick to point out their proposals provide for “free” ID for those who do not already hold on of the select few government issued photo ID cards. The catch is that in order to obtain a “free" ID card from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), a person must present other government-issued identification documents such as a passport or a combination of documents, or a state certified birth certificate , certified copy of a court order indicating the applicant’s name and date of birth, and other documents. Identification documents required to obtain a "free" ID document can cost considerable time and money to obtain.

Several state legislatures around the country have made changes to their voting laws since the last presidential election. The Brennan Center for Justice issued a recent report saying that some of these new laws will limit voter participation by minority, low-income, elderly, and student voters. Voter photo ID laws have been empirically demonstrated to drive down the number of votes (PDF) cast for Democratic candidates by minorities, students, the poor and the elderly, who are less likely to carry a photo ID.

At a discussion, entitled "Excluded from Democracy: The Impact of Recent State Voting Law Changes,” House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI) and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), joined other House Democrats in a look at these laws.

Speakers include representatives of the NAACP, ACLU, the Brennan Center, and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. Other participants include House Administration Committee Ranking Member Robert Brady (D-PA), House Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Representative Keith Ellison (D-MI).


House Judiciary Committee Forum on Voting Laws Changes - November 14, 2011 C-Span

USDOJ 12Mar12 Letter Rejecting Texas Voter Photo ID Law

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