Voter ID slips in behind Supreme Court

Posted Tuesday, Jun. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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It’s hard to argue with the reasoning in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Tuesday decision knocking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act.

But in Texas, it’s just as hard to agree with the result.

Before the day was out, exhultant Republican officials had announced that a strict voter ID requirement approved by the Legislature in 2011 but denied by a federal court in Washington, D.C., would be put into effect immediately.

A three-judge panel at the United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued a burning opinion of that law last August, saying its effects would fall disproportionately on poor minorities, and because of it many of them who have voted in the past simply would not be able to vote in the future.

That finding was not contradicted Tuesday when the Supreme Court invalidated a part of the Voting Rights Act that required Texas to get approval of such election law changes from the Justice Department or the Washington court.

Nevertheless, because federal approval no longer is needed, Secretary of State John Steen said valid photo ID will now be required at the polls.

The next statewide elections are scheduled in November.

Qualifying forms of identification primarily are those issued by the Department of Public Safety, as well as military identification cards, U.S. citizenship certificates and passports.

The D.C. court last year found the burden of obtaining those documents to be improper, and it’s still improper today.

DPS will issue free Election Identification Certificates. But to get one, the D.C. court found, “applicants will have to present DPS officials with a government-issued form of ID, the cheapest of which, a certified copy of a birth certificate, costs $22.”

Eighty-one Texas counties have no DPS office, and 34 more have offices that are open two days per week or less.

DPS offices are not open late for the convenience of working people, meaning they’ll have to take time off and sometimes travel far to get a certificate that will allow them to vote.

“A law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote,” the D.C. court said.

That Texas would attempt to do so is wrong.

The Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act was predictable — as much so as any high court ruling could be.

Section 5 of the VRA requires some states, including Texas, and parts of other states to obtain “precleaerance” from the Justice Department or the D.C. court before changing voting laws or procedures.

Since it was enacted in 1965, that part of the law has always been deemed by the court to be “an uncommon exercise of congressonal power” ustified only by the need to address the “insidious and pervasive evil” of racial discrimination in voting.

Congress has reauthorized the law several times, most recently in 2006, but has not updated the formula based on 1960s and 1970s data that determines which juristictions must face the preclearance requirement.

The Supreme Court left Section 5 standing, but it struck down the old formula, saying voting conditions have change dramatically. Congress is free to adopt an updated formula and still require preclearance.

Why didn’t Congress update the formula in 2006? And is it likely to do so today?

That’s anybody’s guess. Some political figures are urging it.

It’s important to remember that discrimination in voting still violates the Constitution and another part of the Voting Rights Act, Section 2, that the high court left untouched.

Parties that object to what they see as discrimination — like the potential wrongs that led the D.C. court to deny preclearance for Texas voter ID — are left to file their claims in federal court and prove them through what could be a long and expensive trial process.

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