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Federal court strikes down Texas voter identification law

August 30, 2012|By David G. Savage
  • A voter waits for the polls to open in a July runoff election in Dallas.
A voter waits for the polls to open in a July runoff election in Dallas. (Ron Baselice / Dallas Morning…)

WASHINGTON — For the second time this week, a federal court here has blocked a Texas election law as discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act.

A three-judge federal court said Texas may not enforce its strict voter identification law, ruling it would discriminate against poor and minority voters and have the effect of barring them from voting.

The judges said the new law would require tens of thousands of registered Texas voters who are poor and do not drive cars to travel to a state motor vehicle office to obtain the required state photo ID card. And one-third of Texas counties do not have a Department of Public Safety (DPS) office, they noted.

“Even the most committed citizen, we think, would agree that a 200- to 250-mile round trip — especially for would-be voters having no driver’s license — constitutes a substantial burden on the right to vote,” said Judge David Tatel in unanimous opinion.

He noted that about 13% of the state’s black voters, and 7% of its Latinos, do not have an automobile in the household. And the state drivers’ license offices are not open on weekends.

“Poorer citizens, especially those working for hourly wages, will likely be less able to take time off work to travel to a DPS office,” Tatel said. “A law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges the right to vote.”

The ruling is the first during the Obama administration by a federal court holding that a strict voter identification law violates the Voting Rights Act.

On Tuesday, a separate federal court panel struck down the new map of Texas congressional and legislative districts drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature, ruling they diluted the voting power of Latinos and blacks.

Because Texas has a history of racial discrimination in voting, it is required under the Voting Rights Act to obtain advance approval from Washington before making changes in its election laws.

Texas Atty. Gen. Gregg Abbott said the latest decision “is wrong on the law and improperly prevents Texas from implementing the same types of ballot integrity standards” that have been used in other states. He promised an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, adding “we are confident that we will prevail.”

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david.savage@latimes.com

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