Texas Voter ID Law Must Allow for Those Without Photo Cards

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Sun Valley residents vote at Our Lady of The Holy Church on election day at the predominantly Latino Sun Valley district of Los Angeles on November 6, 2012 in California.

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images
  • Appeals court orders interim remedy for November election
  • Attorney general says ‘unfortunate’ that law not fully upheld

Texas was allowed by a fractured appeals court to require voters in November to show a driver’s license or another form of photo identification while a judge hammers out alternatives for citizens without an approved ID.

The decision leaves Texas, which had what critics called the harshest such law in the country, with a weaker statute headed into the presidential election and the prospect that a federal judge will order further changes to fix the law’s discriminatory effect on minority voters in the future.

The majority ruling -- issued Wednesday along with seven other opinions signed by a shifting array of the 15-judge appeals court in New Orleans -- said Texas’s law discriminates against minorities and poor people but may not have been intentionally designed to do so. The court sent the case back to a federal judge in Corpus Christi, Texas, to devise a stopgap solution for this year’s election, while also re-evaluating her decision that Republican lawmakers had deliberately tried to block voting by groups that tend to side with Democrats.

“Preventing voter fraud is essential to accurately reflecting the will of Texas voters during elections,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in an e-mailed statement that didn’t say whether the state will appeal. “It is unfortunate that this common-sense law, providing protections against fraud, was not upheld in its entirety.”

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Wednesday’s ruling was the fourth to find Texas’s law disenfranchised more than 600,000 registered voters because they lacked one of a handful of state-issued ID cards. Voting rights activists claimed Republican lawmakers in 2011 intentionally selected IDs more likely to be possessed by whites, such as drivers’ licenses and handgun permits, rather than the student IDs or state-employee badges acceptable under other states’ voter ID laws. Activists succeeded in blocking Texas in court until 2013, when a Supreme Court decision in another case let Texas start enforcing its rules.

Quick Solution

The appeals court ordered the Corpus Christi judge to devise a quick solution that disrupts existing voter procedures as little as possible on the eve of an election, saying it’s too late to make major changes now.

The court rejected suggestions that voters could go back to using older, insecure forms of identification such as utility bills and pay stubs because Texas has a legitimate interest in securing its elections against fraud. The panel majority suggested poor people might be allowed to cast their ballots after showing voter registration cards or signing sworn statements affirming their identities, a proposal Texas’s lawyers seemed open to during oral arguments in the case.

“The vast majority of eligible voters possess” approved photo IDs and “must show it to vote,” the majority said. It said that a temporary solution was needed because the Texas Legislature is out of session until next year and can’t try to devise its own remedy unless it’s called into an emergency special session.

The case is Veasey v. Abbott, 14-41127, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (New Orleans).

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