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Justice Department rejects Texas voter ID law

March 12, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Reporting from Houston — The U.S. Justice Department on Monday said Texas' new voter identification law failed to comply with the Voting Rights Act and did not demonstrate that it wouldn't discriminate against minority voters.

In a letter to the state, Justice Department officials said the measure could disproportionately harm Latinos. The department blocked a similar law earlier this month in Wisconsin, and in South Carolina in December.

Last year, eight states passed voter ID laws.

Supporters of such laws, generally Republicans, say the laws protect the integrity of elections. The Texas law’s requirements “entail minor inconveniences on exercising the right to vote,” Texas Atty Gen. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said in a January court filing in support of the law.

But opponents of the laws, generally Democrats, say they disenfranchise minority and low-income voters.

“Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card,” Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, wrote Monday in a letter to Keith Ingram, director of elections for the Texas Secretary of State. The letter was excerpted in the Texas Tribune.

Texas and South Carolina have filed suit in federal court seeking permission to enforce their voter ID laws despite Justice Department opposition. The Justice Department has until April 9 to respond to Texas' lawsuit.

Because of a history of voting rights violations, the two states are among 16 states or portions of states that must obtain "preclearance," or permission from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before changing election procedures.

U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder has been an outspoken critic of the Texas law. Speaking in December at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library & Museum, which houses the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that Johnson signed, Holder said that the new voter ID law “goes against the arc of history,” according to the Houston Chronicle.

Under the Texas law, voters must present one of seven forms of state or federally issued photo IDs at the polls, including handgun permits. Those without required ID would be given a provisional ballot, counted only if the voters present an approved ID to the registrar’s office within six days of the election, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s website.

When Texas' Republican-controlled legislature passed the voter ID law last year, critics said the measure would make it more difficult for a million Texas voters to cast their ballots.

"I thank the Justice Department for standing up for voting rights," said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Democrat from Houston, according to the Houston Chronicle. "Throughout the preclearance process, Texas consistently failed to produce information showing the law would not have a discriminatory impact on minority voters. The Voting Rights Act exists for this exact purpose: protecting the ability of all Americans to access the ballot box."

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