DOJ and Houston senator take a stand for voting rights, against ID law

Last May, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed SB 14 into law. An ALEC award-winner himself, Governor Perry had the support of several ALEC members and others who pushed the legislation. Together they made Texas a photo ID state.

Not so fast, says the Department of Justice.

Today DOJ issued an official objection that will stop SB 14 from going into effect, saying that it disproportionately affects Hispanic voters.

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.

DOJ said that Texas did not meet its burden of proof and failed to demonstrate that SB 14 made positive progress, without discriminatory intent, in ensuring election integrity.

In conclusion, the state has not met its burden of proving that, when compared to the benchmark, the proposed requirement will not have a retrogressive effect, or that any specific features of the proposed law will prevent or mitigate that retrogression. Additionally, the state has failed to demonstrate why it could not meet its stated goals of ensuring electoral integrity and deterring ineligible voters from voting in a manner that would have avoided this retrogressive effect. Because we conclude that the state has failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that the proposed law will not have a retrogressive effect, we do not make any determination as to whether the state has established that the proposed changes were adopted with no discriminatory purpose.

DOJ’s action flows from its mandate under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to review election law changes in certain jurisdictions, Texas being one of them.

State Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston sent DOJ a letter last week, urging:

Regardless of the excuses for why the State fails to fully answer the DOJ’s question, it is clear that the State falls far short of meeting the standards set out in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. As outlined on the DOJ’s own website, Section 5 “requires proof that the proposed voting change does not deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group. If the jurisdiction is unable to prove the absence of such discrimination,” then the proposed change cannot receive preclearance and is legally unenforceable.

Again, given the State’s failure to prove that Senate Bill 14 has neither the purpose nor the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group, I respectfully request that the DOJ deny preclearance of Senate Bill 14. We must not proceed recklessly with far-reaching electoral changes that could potentially disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of legal voters.

Senator Ellis was responding to an in-depth Houston Chronicle review of the data that the state submitted to DOJ in support of its preclearance request.

For more information, check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation