Debate Center, 7/24

I n recent years, in a number of states, Republican lawmakers have been pushing legislation that requires voters to present a photo ID or other proof of residency in order to receive a ballot and to be allowed to vote in an election. The lawmakers pushing for the change in legislation argue that the proof of ID would help to prevent voter fraud. In Texas, the law known as SB 14 was passed by the legislature and changed Texas law to require a photo ID of all voters. That Texas law was challenged by the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. It is one of several legal challenges led by the Justice Department to voter ID laws around the country.

Texas state officials went to federal court two weeks ago to defend their new voter identification law, dismissing suggestions by the Justice Department that the requirement would deny hundreds of thousands of people many of them minorities access to the ballot. This is not the first attempt to challenge state laws which require photo ID for voters to receive a ballot.

On April 28, 2008, by a vote of 6to3, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to Indiana’s voter-photo identification law in the case of Crawford v. Marion County Election Board.  At issue was whether Indiana’s requirement that voters show government-issued photo identification before casting a ballot, with certain exemptions, violated the U.S. Constitution. The Court ruled that such requirements by a state did not violate the constitution. If the case had been settled by the Supreme Court, why then is the Justice Department challenging the Texas law which is very similar to the Indiana law that was upheld?  The answer is the past history of voter discrimination in the south.

Texas is among 16 states, or jurisdictions within states, that must obtain permission from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before changing election procedures because of a history of voting rights violations dating back to the Civil War. A key enforcement provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 known as Section 5 gives the federal government open-ended oversight of states and localities with a history of voter discrimination. Any changes in voting laws and procedures in the covered areas must be “pre-cleared” with Washington. That provision was reauthorized in 2006 for another quarter-century.

The most recent violation for Texas was nearly 40 years ago.  However, the Justice Department, on March 12, used its power under the Voting Rights Act to block the Texas law, saying in a letter to the state that the measure may disproportionately harm Hispanic voters. The dispute over Texass new law requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polls is now before a threejudge federal panel in Washington. Republicans in Texas argue that without the photo ID, they fear an election day where illegal residents are casting ballots.

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