AUSTIN – A federal district court entered an order to ease Texas’s strict photo identification law and allow voters without ID to cast a regular ballot this November.
In July, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found Texas’s photo ID law racially discriminatory. An Aug. 10 district court order addresses the discriminatory effects of the law.
“The district court found that approximately 605,000 Texans, disproportionately African-Americans and Latinos, did not possess SB 14 ID, and that the law unconstitutionally burdened their right to vote, as forbidden by the First and Fourteenth Amendment,” Ezra Rosenberg, co-director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s voting rights project, told the Southeast Texas Record.
The original Texas law required voters to show a government-issued photo ID to vote, such as a state driver’s license, a passport, or concealed carry license. Under the agreed order reached Aug. 10, 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.
Additional forms of ID that are acceptable under the “reasonable impediment” alternative include 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.
“The list of acceptable documents is now quite large, and includes any government-issued document with an address,” Jennifer Clark, counsel for the Democracy Program at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, told the Southeast Texas Record. “The voters who testified at trial who lacked one of the limited number of photographic government-issued IDs accepted under the old law had one of these other acceptable documents.”
The state of 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.
“We applaud the court system for its handling of this matter,” Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP, told the Southeast Texas Record. “Four separate courts have now ruled on the law, and all four have held the law discriminates against African-Americans and Latinos. We hope at some point the state will decide to treat minorities properly.”
Testimony was presented in a September 2014 trial to show 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.
“The district court had also found that the difficulty of obtaining SB 14 ID, including the cost of underlying documents, and the long distances and travel times, created burdens that disproportionately fell on minority voters,” Rosenberg said.
In implementing the new law, Bledsoe said the Texas legislature declined to include forms of identification that were more likely to be held by disaffected groups.
“Of the 28 or so forms of identification permitted by state governments that have voter ID laws, Texas allowed less than half of them - less than any other state,” Bledsoe said.
Rosenberg said under existing law not affected by a recent interim relief order, if the voter has no form of ID, but is registered to vote, the voter can vote a provisional ballot, which will be accepted only if the voter is able to obtain SB 14 ID within six days or if the voter files an affidavit either asserting a religious objection to being photographed or asserting that their SB 14 ID was lost or destroyed as a result of a natural disaster occurring within 45 days of casting a ballot.
However, Bledsoe said the provisional ballot requirements are not always easy to meet.
“If you had to vote a provisional ballot, you were required to come in within one week and prove you were who you said you were. This is a nearly impossible burden for many poor and working people, and racial or ethnic minorities, the elderly and college or university students.”