Sunday, June 10, 2012

State Senator Wendy Davis And Voter Photo ID

by Michael Handley and Linda Magid

Linda Magid (left) with Sen. Davis (D-10)Texas State Senator Wendy Davis attended the Texas Democratic Party Kick-Off Reception last Thursday night to celebrate the beginning of the State Democratic Convention for 2012.

Senator Davis had only earlier been deposed for the Texas Voter Photo I.D. case currently before the federal Washington DC Circuit Court.

When we spoke with Senator Davis at the reception she shared that lawyers for the Photo I.D. law tried to imply that because citizens of Texas want the law that it should be allowed.

It will come as no surprise that Davis refused to agree to that logic, stating that legislators are responsible to ensure that no laws are discriminatory and that the Texas Voter I.D. law that passed last year was clearly discriminatory.

Legislation passed by the Republican controlled Texas Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011 (SB 14) requires that voters present one of a select and limited group of government issued photo I.D., which over 30% of some voting groups do not hold, before casting a ballot.

Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department or a federal court is required to pre-clear laws affecting voters before they go into effect in jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination -- and that includes Texas. The Texas Secretary of State’s (TxSOS) office made the preclearance filing for SB 14 to the U.S. Department Justice (USDOJ) on July 25, 2011. The state’s voter I.D. law is on hold awaiting review from a D.C. Circuit Court.

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 I.D. 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 I.D., or personal identification card; Texas concealed handgun license; U.S. military I.D. card; U.S. citizenship certificate; or U.S. passport.

The USDOJ requested information from the Secretary of State’s Office last September and again last November on the 605,576 registered Texas voters who, according to the information filed by the TxSOS, do not appear to have a Texas driver’s license or personal photo I.D. card.

The USDOJ needed the information to assess how the I.D. law would impact minority voters. The Secretary of State’s office delayed sending the requested information to the USDOJ until January 12, 2012. Last October the Texas Democratic Party sent a letter to the USDOJ showing that in at least 46 Texas counties, over half the voters who do not have one of the required photo ID's are Hispanic:

"... The numbers plainly show that in at least 46 Texas counties, over half the voters who do not have I.D. are Hispanic. Further, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, only 25% of eligible voters in Texas are Hispanic. The total of Hispanics likely to be disenfranchised because they do not have I.D. is almost 29%. Clearly the legislation has a disproportionate impact on Hispanic voters. If the SOS would provide the estimates by race that your office requested, I believe that we would see that a disproportionate percentage of those being disenfranchised are also African American and Asian. ..."

Various organizations are also staunchly opposed to SB14 on the grounds it will disenfranchise young, elderly, and minority voters. The Brennan Center for Justice last year issued a report on its research that shows as many as 11% of eligible voters, including college students, the elderly and minority voters nationwide do not hold a government issue photo I.D.

The USDOJ rejected the state’s application for preclearance of the law in March, claiming the state did not prove that the law would not have a discriminatory effect on minority voters. The USDOJ had previously blocked South Carolina's new voter I.D. law on December 23, 2011, on questions of minority discrimination. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed suit against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice in DC Circuit Court to have the state’s controversial voter photo I.D. law implemented without further delay.

The DC Circuit Court case stalled from March until late May because Abbott asked the court to shield Republican state lawmakers from giving depositions in the voter photo I.D. case against Holder and the USDOJ. Citing legislative privilege, Abbott's office said that the USDOJ's requests to depose lawmakers and subpoena records amounted to "an unwarranted federal intrusion into the operations of the Texas Legislature."

After the DC Circuit Court three judge panel issued a court order in May chastising Abbott for dragging his feet on the depositions, he quietly dropped his opposition to the USDOJ's request to take depositions from state lawmakers in the voter photo I.D. case. Excerpts from the court order:

Rather than engaging in expedited discovery consistent with its stated goal, Texas has taken steps that can only be interpreted as having the aim of delaying Defendants’ ability to receive and analyze data and documents in a timely fashion.

Texas has repeatedly ignored or violated directives and orders of this Court that were designed to expedite discovery, and Texas has failed to produce in a timely manner key documents that Defendants need to prepare their defense.

Most troubling is Texas’ conduct with respect to producing its key state databases, which are central to Defendants’ claim that S.B. 14 has a disparate and retrogressive impact on racial and/or language minority groups.

The record reflects that these databases are voluminous, complex, and essential to the preparation of the opinions of Defendants’ expert witnesses. Yet, according to Texas, the full production of such databases to the United States was only complete on May 4, 2012—35 days after they were initially due.

Lawyers started deposing Republican and Democratic Party state lawmakers in late May and the trial is currently scheduled to start on July 9, 2012. While Abbott's office has stop trying to prevent the depositions under a claim of executive privilege, Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for Abbott, has said that neither Republican legislators nor their staff have waived their "executive privilege." It has been reported that Republican lawmakers and legislative staff are not answering some deposition questions, citing legislative privilege.

The concept of legislative privilege remains up for debate. The state said lawmakers should be able to keep some official communication confidential, while the Justice Department, intervenors and others said the process should be completely open. The federal judges in the case ultimately will decide what, if anything, is privileged.


Michael Handley is DBN Managing Editor and was a Delegate to the 2012 TDP State Convention. Linda Magid is the State Democratic Executive Committee Committeewoman and was the 2012 State Convention Delegation Chair for Senate District 8. Linda is a contributing writer and editor to the Democratic Blog News.

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