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Texas Voters Now Have Equal Access to Ballot in Major Voting Victory

A federal district court entered an order to ease Texas’s strict photo ID law — and allow voters without ID to cast a regular ballot this November. The ruling is part of a string of major voting victories in recent weeks.

August 10, 2016

Law As Writ­ten Struck Down, Texas Voters Without Photo ID Will Be Able To Cast Regu­lar Ballot this Novem­ber

Today, in a major victory for voting rights advoc­ates nation­wide, a federal district court entered an order to ease Texas’s strict photo ID law — and allow voters without ID to cast a regu­lar ballot this Novem­ber.

The Texas require­ment, as writ­ten in 2011, is effect­ively struck down. Approx­im­ately 600,000 registered voters did not have accept­able ID required under the original strict law.

The full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found Texas’s photo ID law racially discrim­in­at­ory last month. Today’s agree­ment addresses the discrim­in­at­ory effects of the law — and will help ensure all Texas voters can cast a ballot that counts this fall.

The original Texas law required voters to show one of a very limited number of govern­ment-issued photo IDs to vote, such as a state driver’s license, a pass­port, or a concealed carry license. Under today’s agree­ment, any voter without these forms of photo ID can sign a declar­a­tion stat­ing they have a “reas­on­able imped­i­ment” to obtain­ing one, show an altern­at­ive form of iden­ti­fic­a­tion, and vote a regu­lar ballot. Voters who have one of the accept­able photo IDs must still show them to cast a ballot.

Many addi­tional forms of ID are accept­able under the “reas­on­able imped­i­ment” altern­at­ive, includ­ing a voter regis­tra­tion certi­fic­ate, driver’s license or personal ID card from any state (regard­less of expir­a­tion date), util­ity bill, govern­ment check, paycheck, or any other govern­ment docu­ment that displays the voter’s name and address. Texas also agreed to spend $2.5 million on voter educa­tion efforts to let resid­ents of the state know about the new changes before Elec­tion Day.

The Texas ruling is part of a string of recent court decisions — in Kansas, North Caro­lina, North Dakota, and Wiscon­sin — rolling back or strik­ing down voting restric­tions ahead of the Novem­ber elec­tion. Across the board, courts ruled that states passed restrict­ive laws with “surgical preci­sion” to exclude certain voters, includ­ing minor­it­ies, students, and the elderly.

Still, 15 states have new restrict­ive voting laws in place for the first time in a pres­id­en­tial elec­tion in 2016. Texas remains on that list because the voter ID require­ment remains more burden­some than what was in place for the 2012 elec­tion.

Three federal courts have found that Texas’s ID law viol­ates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by deny­ing African-Amer­ican and Latino voters an equal oppor­tun­ity to cast a ballot. The law was also previ­ously blocked under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. It was imple­men­ted in 2013, imme­di­ately after the Supreme Court gutted a core provi­sion of the Voting Rights Act.

The Texas State Confer­ence of the NAACP and the Mexican Amer­ican Legis­lat­ive Caucus of the Texas House of Repres­ent­at­ives (MALC) chal­lenged the law in Septem­ber 2013. That case was consol­id­ated with other similar cases and is now known as Veasey v. Abbott. The attor­neys repres­ent­ing the groups include the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law, the national office of the NAACP, Dech­ert LLP, The Bled­soe Law Firm, the Law Offices of Jose Garza, the Law Office of Robert S. Notzon, and the Covich Law Firm, P.C.

“No Amer­ican should ever lose the right to vote because they don’t have a photo ID,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program. “This agree­ment in Texas and other decisions nation­wide mark a mean­ing­ful turn­ing point. As we approach this Novem­ber’s elec­tions, courts are step­ping in to block discrim­in­at­ory laws that prevent certain people from parti­cip­at­ing. Today is a tremend­ous victory for our demo­cracy and our coun­try, with real bene­fits that will be felt by Texas voters this fall.”

“Hundreds of thou­sands of Texans, who would have been stopped from voting by the old law, will now be able to cast a ballot in Novem­ber, and exer­cise the most funda­mental right in Amer­ican demo­cracy,” said Gary Bled­soe, pres­id­ent of the Texas NAACP and an attor­ney with the Bled­soe Law Firm. “This hard-fought victory is good news, and a big step in our continu­ing fight to push back against discrim­in­at­ory laws that have no place in the Lone Star State. We applaud those judges from both parties who have put polit­ics aside to give true mean­ing to our Consti­tu­tion and laws.”

“The state’s discrim­in­at­ory voter ID law is an example of bad public policy. The law has suppressed Texans’ abil­ity to exer­cise their right to vote, while the perceived prob­lem of in-person voter fraud is a fantasy,” said Rep. Trey Martinez Fisc­her, chair­man of MALC. “Fixing the law required chan­ging it to such an extent as to render it inef­fect­ive. Unfor­tu­nately, it took three years and millions of taxpayer dollars to spoil this cheap ploy to disen­fran­chise African-Amer­ican and Latino voters. We cannot rely on the courts to protect our voting rights or trust that the campaign to disen­fran­chise Texas minor­it­ies has ended — too much damage has already been done. Instead, we must make ourselves heard at the ballot box and use our collect­ive voice to call for a restor­a­tion of the Voting Rights Act.”

“The terms of the interim remedy order will help address the discrim­in­at­ory effect of Texas’s law — the most strin­gent voter iden­ti­fic­a­tion law in the coun­try — as voters go to the polls this Novem­ber,” said Ezra Rosen­berg, co-director of the Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Voting Rights Project. “Texas must now do everything possible to educate voters and to train elec­tion officers to ensure full access to the polls during the general elec­tion cycle.”

“This settle­ment really does take the bite out of Texas’s voter ID law,” said Amy Rudd of Dech­ert LLPpro bono coun­sel for the NAACP Texas State Confer­ence and MALC. “It is partic­u­larly signi­fic­ant in this pres­id­en­tial elec­tion year that Texas voters have many addi­tional options for identi­fy­ing them­selves and cast­ing a regu­lar ballot at the polls.”

“The fight is not yet over, but we have secured an import­ant expan­sion of the fran­chise for the Latino community,” said Jose Garza, legal coun­sel at MALC. “Eligible Texas voters with an inab­il­ity to secure one of the limited forms of ID accept­able to the state can still vote.”

“There is a great sense of relief here in South Texas and the Corpus Christi community that thou­sands of voters need not worry about their abil­ity to vote on Elec­tion Day,” said Daniel G. Covich of Covich Law Firm LLP.

Back­ground

A federal court in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. blocked Texas’s voter ID law in 2012 under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, find­ing that the law would have a dispro­por­tion­ate negat­ive impact on minor­ity citizens in Texas. In June 2013, however, the U.S. Supreme Court (in a separ­ate case) ruled that the formula used in the Act for specify­ing the states covered by Section 5 is uncon­sti­tu­tional. As a result, Texas is not currently required to comply with Section 5. Just hours after the Supreme Court’s decision, then-Texas Attor­ney General Greg Abbott announced the state would imple­ment the voter ID law.

At the Septem­ber 2014 trial, the Texas NAACP and MALC, among others, presen­ted evid­ence show­ing the state’s ID require­ment would erect discrim­in­at­ory barri­ers to voting. At trial, experts test­i­fied that 1.2 million eligible Texas voters lack a form of govern­ment-issued photo ID that would have been accep­ted under the new law — and minor­it­ies would be hit the hard­est. For example, the court cred­ited testi­mony that African-Amer­ican registered voters are 305 percent more likely and Hispanic registered voters 195 percent more likely than white registered voters to lack photo ID that can be used to vote.

Read more on the case here and here

Contact:

Becca Autrey

Bren­nan Center for Justice

646–292–8316

rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu

Summer Luciano

MALC

512–236–8410

slucian­o@malc.org

Gary Bled­soe

Bled­soe Law Firm

512–322–9992

garybled­soe@s­b­c­g­lobal.net

Daniel Covich

Covich Law Firm LLC

361–884–5400

daniel@­covich­law­firm.com

Robert Notzon

Law Office of Robert Notzon

512–799–4744

rober­t@notzon­law.com

Jose Garza

Law Office of Jose Garza

210–392–2856

garzpalm@aol.com

Rebecca Stur­tevant

Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law

202–662–8372

rstur­tevant@law­yer­scom­mit­tee.org

Beth Huff­man

Dech­ert LLP

215–994–6761

beth.huff­man@­dech­ert.com