Today, in a major victory for voting rights advocates nationwide, a federal district court entered an order to ease Texas’s strict photo ID law — and allow voters without ID to cast a regular ballot this November.
The Texas requirement, as written in 2011, is effectively struck down. Approximately 600,000 registered voters did not have acceptable ID required under the original strict law.
The full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found Texas’s photo ID law racially discriminatory last month. Today’s agreement addresses the discriminatory effects of the law — and will help ensure all Texas voters can cast a ballot that counts this fall.
The original Texas law required voters to show one of a very limited number of government-issued photo IDs to vote, such as a state driver’s license, a passport, or concealed carry license. Under today’s agreement, any voter without these forms of photo ID can sign a declaration stating they have a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining one, show an alternative form of identification, and vote a regular ballot. Voters who have one of the acceptable photo IDs must still show them to cast a ballot.
Many additional forms of ID are acceptable under the “reasonable impediment” alternative, including a voter registration certificate, driver’s license or personal ID card from any state (regardless of expiration date), utility bill, government check, paycheck, or any other government document that displays the voter’s name and address. Texas also agreed to spend $2.5 million on voter education efforts to let residents of the state know about the new changes before Election Day.
The Texas ruling is part of a string of recent court decisions — in Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Wisconsin — rolling back or striking down voting restrictions ahead of the November election. Across the board, courts ruled that states passed restrictive laws with “surgical precision” to exclude certain voters, including minorities, students, and the elderly.
Still, 15 states have new restrictive voting laws in place for the first time in a presidential election in 2016. Texas remains on that list because the voter ID requirement remains more burdensome than what was in place for the 2012 election.
Three federal courts have found that Texas’s ID law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by denying African-American and Latino voters an equal opportunity to cast a ballot. The law was also previously blocked under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. It was implemented in 2013, immediately after the Supreme Court gutted a core provision of the Voting Rights Act.
The Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives (MALC) challenged the law in September 2013. That case was consolidated with other similar cases and is now known as Veasey v. Abbott. The attorneys representing the groups include the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the national office of the NAACP, Dechert LLP, The Bledsoe Law Firm, the Law Offices of Jose Garza, the Law Office of Robert S. Notzon, and the Covich Law Firm, P.C.
“The terms of the interim remedy order will help address the discriminatory effect of Texas’s law — the most stringent voter identification law in the country — as voters go to the polls this November,” said Ezra Rosenberg, co-director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Voting Rights Project. “Texas must now do everything possible to educate voters and to train election officers to ensure full access to the polls during the general election cycle.”
“No American should ever lose the right to vote because they don’t have a photo ID,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “This agreement in Texas and other decisions nationwide mark a meaningful turning point. As we approach this November’s elections, courts are stepping in to block discriminatory laws that prevent certain people from participating. Today is a tremendous victory for our democracy and our country, with real benefits that will be felt by Texas voters this fall.”
“Hundreds of thousands of Texans, who would have been stopped from voting by the old law, will now be able to cast a ballot in November, and exercise the most fundamental right in American democracy,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP and an attorney with the Bledsoe Law Firm. “This hard-fought victory is good news, and a big step in our continuing fight to push back against discriminatory laws that have no place in the Lone Star State. We applaud those judges from both parties who have put politics aside to give true meaning to our Constitution and laws.”
“The state’s discriminatory voter ID law is an example of bad public policy. The law has suppressed Texans’ ability to exercise their right to vote, while the perceived problem of in-person voter fraud is a fantasy,” said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, chairman of MALC. “Fixing the law required changing it to such an extent as to render it ineffective. Unfortunately, it took three years and millions of taxpayer dollars to spoil this cheap ploy to disenfranchise African-American and Latino voters. We cannot rely on the courts to protect our voting rights or trust that the campaign to disenfranchise Texas minorities has ended — too much damage has already been done. Instead, we must make ourselves heard at the ballot box and use our collective voice to call for a restoration of the Voting Rights Act.”
“This settlement really does take the bite out of Texas’s voter ID law,” said Amy Rudd of Dechert LLP, pro bono counsel for the NAACP Texas State Conference and MALC. “It is particularly significant in this presidential election year that Texas voters have many additional options for identifying themselves and casting a regular ballot at the polls.”
“The fight is not yet over, but we have secured an important expansion of the franchise for the Latino community,” said Jose Garza, legal counsel at MALC. “Eligible Texas voters with an inability to secure one of the limited forms of ID acceptable to the state can still vote.”
“There is a great sense of relief here in South Texas and the Corpus Christi community that thousands of voters need not worry about their ability to vote on Election Day,” said Daniel G. Covich of Covich Law Firm LLP.
A federal court in Washington, D.C. blocked Texas’s voter ID law in 2012 under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, finding that the law would have a disproportionate negative impact on minority citizens in Texas. In June 2013, however, the U.S. Supreme Court (in a separate case) ruled that the formula used in the Act for specifying the states covered by Section 5 is unconstitutional. As a result, Texas is not currently required to comply with Section 5. Just hours after the Supreme Court’s decision, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced the state would implement the voter ID law.
At the September 2014 trial, the Texas NAACP and MALC, among others, presented evidence showing the state’s ID requirement would erect discriminatory barriers to voting. At trial, experts testified that 1.2 million eligible Texas voters lack a form of government-issued photo ID that would have been accepted under the new law — and minorities would be hit the hardest. For example, the court credited testimony that African-American registered voters are 305 percent more likely and Hispanic registered voters 195 percent more likely than white registered voters to lack photo ID that can be used to vote.
Read more on the case here and here.