Texas to immediately enforce Voter ID bill

Posted Wednesday, Jun. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act had an instant impact in Texas, where Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that the state’s photo Voter ID bill, blocked by federal judges last year, would “take effect immediately.”

“Today’s ruling ensures that Texas is no longer one of just a few states that must seek approval from the federal government before its election laws can take effect,” said Abbott in a statement.

“With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.”

A three-judge panel had prevented the law from taking effect before the November 2012 elections, ruling that the photo ID requirement disproportionately affected minorities.

Texas Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, told reporters Tuesday that the section of the VRA law used to block Texas’ voter ID law and the Legislature’s once-a decade redistricting of federal and state district lines was now effectively “in limbo.”

“All is not lost,” he said, struggling to look for a positive spin on the decision. “It certainly is disappointing.”

He and caucus attorney Jose Garza said they did not know if groups representing minorities would challenge the Voter ID law going into effect.

Although the Supreme Court did not overturn the voting law’s Section 5 – which requires states and localities in all or parts of nine states, including Texas, to get pre-approval of voting plans – the formula to implement it, dating back to the 1960s, was found unconstitutional, leaving it up to Congress to devise a new one.

“We urge Congress to develop a new coverage formula that complies with the Supreme Court’s ruling in order to place states with a history of discrimination towards minorities under preclearance protections,” said Fischer. “One needs only to look at the D.C. District Court’s opinion in the Texas redistricting and the photo identification cases to see that discrete protections for minority voters in Texas are still critically necessary.”

Reaction on Capitol Hill fell along partisan lines.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and other Texas Republicans praised the ruling. “Today, the Supreme Court recognized the enormous progress made toward voting equality in the United States since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965,” Cruz said. “The court rightly decided that the statutory standards used decades ago to subject democratically elected state legislatures to second-guessing by unelected federal bureaucrats no longer survives constitutional scrutiny.”

But Democrats blasted the ruling and vowed to work quickly in Congress to restore what they consider vital protections for voters.

“I will work with my colleagues to act quickly to create a new formula by which to determine which jurisdictions should be subject to the preclearance provisions of Section 5,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth.

“As my home state of Texas proved in the redistricting process in 2011, many of our elected officials unfortunately still cannot be trusted to protect minority voting rights. We need Section 5 of the VRA to ensure that minorities continue to have the right to elect the candidate of their choice,” Veasey said.

Democratic Latino members of the delegation agreed with President Obama – who issued a rare statement reacting to the court – that the decision is a “setback.”

“Today's decision is a travesty for the democratic process,” said freshman U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine. In an interview, he likened the loss of the Justice Department’s pre-approval of changes to voter laws to losing officials to enforce the rules in sports.

“We’ve lost our umpire. We’ve lost our referee,” he said. The implementation of Texas’ Voter ID law “makes it harder for people to participate in the democratic process.”

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, another freshman Latino, said: “This decision is a major setback for Texans and all Americans whose most fundamental voting rights are being trampled in right-wing state legislatures.

“In Texas, following today’s decision, the attorney general is already calling on the most extreme voting ID laws to be implemented in our state. I am committed to working with my colleagues in Congress to act swiftly to ensure that all Americans have the freedom to be full participants of our democracy by protecting every American’s right to vote.”

It didn’t take long for the Texas Department of Public Safety to announce that it it will begin processing applications for free voter ID cards this week.

The IDs are free and will be available to voters who do not yet have a viable form of ID, such as a driver’s license, a concealed handgun license, a passport or military ID.

This report contains material from The Texas Tribune.

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