Monday, July 9, 2012

Texas Voter Photo I.D. Federal Trial Opening Arguments Today

The Texas Voter Photo I.D. case currently before the federal Washington D.C. Circuit Court took another step forward today as the three judge panel heard opening arguments in the trial.

The three judge panel will decide whether Texas can enforce its year-old voter photo I.D. law, which the U.S. Department of Justice contends will prevent over 600,000 registered Latino and African-American voters from casting a ballot in the November General Election.

Originally set to go into effect on January 1, 2012, the Texas Photo I.D. 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.

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.

In March, the U.S. Justice Department Civil Rights Division refused to clear the Texas law, known as Senate Bill 14 (SB 14), saying Texas officials had failed to prove that it wouldn’t adversely affect minorities. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed suit against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice in the Washington D.C. Circuit Court to have the state’s controversial voter photo I.D. law implemented without further delay.

Under federal law, lawsuits seeking so-called “pre-clearance” of changes to voting procedures in all of seven mostly Southern states and parts of nine others, are heard by three-judge panels composed of two district court judges and an appeals court judge. D.C. Circuit Judge David Tatel and District Court Judges Rosemary Collyer and Robert Wilkins were impaneled to hear the Texas photo ID case.

(click here to read a full summary of case through early June 2012.)

As the trial got under way in a packed courtroom, DOJ trial attorney Elizabeth Westfall said in her opening argument that the federal government will show racial motivation in Texas’ passage of the law.

As reported in Politico:

“The facts will convincingly demonstrate the discriminatory purpose and effect of Senate Bill 14,” Westfall told the three-judge panel in her brief opening argument in a trial expected to last through Friday. Westfall said the Texas law is certain to deprive minorities of their right to vote because they often don’t have the types of ID required by the new law. ”At least 1.4 million registered voters in Texas lack any form of state-issued ID accepted under SB 14, and those voters are disproportionately Hispanic and black,” she said.

The lawyer opening the case for Texas, Adam Mortara, said legislators who passed the measure were reflecting the will of the people and what opinion polls show to be the clear preference of minority voters for voter ID legislation.

“The people want photo ID, and we gave it to them,” said Mortara, an attorney with the Bartlit Beck law firm in Chicago. “Despite the fact that all these people support this legislation, the Justice Department says we did it with discriminatory purpose.”

Mortara noted that seven states that have voter photo-ID laws on the books: Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Indiana, Tennessee, Kansas and New Hampshire. Most of those states are not subject to the pre-clearance process under the Voting Rights Act.

“It’s really quite difficult to find anyone who’s registered to vote who doesn’t have photo ID,” he said. “There are almost no people registered to vote in Texas who don’t already have photo ID.”

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. Th 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. ..."

Politico further reports:

The first witness called by the state was Brian Ingram, director of the elections division for the Texas secretary of state.

Ingram said 18 counties in Texas have more people registered than the counties’ voting-age population. He also said non-citizens, dead people and convicted felons are almost certainly on the state’s voter rolls, despite efforts to scrub them. Ingram said officials believe 239 voters recorded as casting ballots in a May primary election were actually deceased prior to the election. “Who is voting?” Mortara asked Ingram. “I don’t know,” the election official said. “It tells us that it’s more common than we thought.”

On cross-examination, Westfall established that Ingram has been in his job only since January and had no prior experience in election administration. “You’ve never been to a polling place to observe an election?” she asked. “That’s correct,” Ingram said.

Ingram's testimony for the state are the same claims repeatedly debunked in state after state when the claims are factually researched. In follow-up of similar allegations, further investigation has shown that:

Not only is voter fraud not rampant – it's virtually nonexistent. The iron-clad word on the subject comes from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, whose 2007 report, 'The Truth About Voter Fraud,' sorts through thousands of allegations going back to the 1990s in the most in-depth voter fraud study ever undertaken. The bottom line, confirmed by all subsequent research: "Usually, only a tiny portion of the claimed illegality is substantiated — and most of the remainder is either nothing more than speculation or has been conclusively debunked." In fact, "one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud."

Since the record turnout of minority and young voters for Pres. Obama in 2008, there has been a wave of new restrictive voter laws passed by Republican controlled state legislatures that block access to the ballot box. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that more than five million voters may be disenfranchised by the voting law changes.

And when the salacious allegations in-person voter fraud turn out to be mundane glitches, made-up fairy tales, or unconnected to proving identity at the polls, there's a lot less attention paid. So I look forward to the actual facts, whatever they may show, given in the D.C. trial that got underway today.


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