Texas, Wisconsin Told Not to Enforce Voter Identification Laws

Texas and Wisconsin officials were barred from enforcing laws requiring voters to produce a government-issued photo identification before casting ballots.

The U.S. Justice Department yesterday told Texas officials the state failed to show that the statute signed into law by Governor Rick Perry last year won’t have a discriminatory effect on Latino voters while a Wisconsin state court judge held that an ID law enacted by fellow Republican Governor Scott Walker last year, unconstitutionally burdens the rights of eligible citizens.

The measures had been adopted to combat potential voter fraud.

“Voter fraud is no more poisonous to our democracy than voter suppression,” Dane County, Wisconsin Circuit Judge Richard Niess said in his ruling yesterday barring enforcement of that state’s law. “Indeed they are two heads on the same monster.”

Signed by Walker in May, Wisconsin’s statute required voters to present government-issued photographic proof of identity such as a driver’s license, U.S. passport or an armed forces or college ID.

Under the Texas law signed by Perry in the same month, voters arriving at the polls without one of seven acceptable forms of photo IDs issued by the state or federal government, including concealed carry handgun permits, would be given a provisional ballot, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s website.

Approved ID

Those ballots would count only if voters bring an approved ID to the registrar’s office within six days of the election. The law exempts mail-in ballots and voters with significant disabilities or religious objections to being photographed.

Both states’ statutes were challenged on grounds they disproportionately affected poor and minority voters.

The Justice Department in December blocked a similar measure in South Carolina.

Texas and South Carolina are among 16 states or portions of states that must obtain permission from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before redrawing their district lines or changing election procedures because of a history of voting rights violations.

The federal Voting Rights Act requires Texas to prove its law wouldn’t interfere with minorities’ ability to vote.

Hispanic registered voters there are 47 percent to 120 percent more likely to lack the required identification than non-Hispanic voters, the Justice Department said in its letter. Texas has 12.9 million registered voters of whom 2.81 million are Hispanic.

‘Most Favorable’

“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, said in the letter to Keith Ingram, the director of elections for the Texas Secretary of State.

The Justice Department’s Texas decision isn’t final. That state and South Carolina have filed suit in federal court in Washington seeking permission to enforce their photo ID requirements.

“Their denial is yet another example of the Obama administration’s continuing and pervasive federal overreach,” Perry said in a statement responding to the Justice Department notification.

Seeking Reversal

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he would seek reversal of Niess’s decision to invalidate his state’s law.

“Wisconsin’s voter ID law is consistent with the constitution and I will appeal this decision,” he said in an e-mailed statement.

“We are confident the state will prevail in its plan to implement photo ID,” Cullen Werwie, a spokesman for Walker, said in an e-mailed statement.

Werwie likened the measure to requirements to present a photo ID before obtaining cold medicine, public assistance or a public library card.

The League of Women Voters, which filed one of four suits challenging the Wisconsin measure, in its own press statement disagreed.

“Voting is not like cashing a check or getting on an airplane,” state President Melanie Ramey said in the statement. “Those activities are not protected by the constitution.”

The case is League of Women Voters of Wisconsin v. Walker, 11-cv-4669, Dane County, Wisconsin, Circuit Court (Madison).

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