Texas's Strict Photo Voter-ID Law Struck Down by U.S. Judge

Updated on
  • Judge rules lawmakers’ latest version doesn’t fix flaws
  • Texas will appeal to try to restore voter ID for 2018 election

Voters cast their ballots inside Calvary Baptist Church in Rosenberg, Texas, on March 1, 2016.

Photographer: Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

A federal judge struck down Texas’s restrictive photo voter-identification law and Republican lawmakers’ most recent attempt at fixing it, finding neither version corrects provisions that intentionally make it harder for poor and minority citizens to vote.

“Not one of the discriminatory features” of Texas’s original photo ID law “is fully ameliorated by the terms” of the measure Texas lawmakers passed earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi said in the ruling Wednesday.

Furthermore, the 2017 version of the voter ID law “trades one obstacle to voting with another -- replacing the lack of qualified photo ID with an overreaching affidavit threatening severe penalties for perjury,” Ramos said.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton immediately vowed to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans to reinstate the law, calling the ruling “outrageous.” He said the U.S. Justice Department, under President Donald Trump, doesn’t oppose Texas’s law, although the Obama administration fought against it.

The judge declined to rewrite Texas’s voter ID law herself, saying that would require the presentation of additional evidence and would only prolong an already protracted legal fight. Instead, she returned Texas to voter-identification rules it followed before the initial photo-ID requirement was passed in 2011.

Gonzales said the lack of any proof that significant in-person voter fraud was occurring in Texas undercut the need for any emergency action on her part. She said rewriting any new photo-ID requirements is “better left to the legislature.” 

Voting Districts

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, declined last week to call lawmakers back into a special session to consider corrections to the state’s congressional voting districts. A different federal court declared the voter maps unconstitutional and ordered them to be fixed. The legislature isn’t scheduled to come back into regular session until January 2019.

The state argued in the voter ID case that the law should be presumed constitutional because the revised version included changes that closely resembled interim measures the same judge instituted last year so more Texans could vote in the 2016 elections. Critics complained Texas lawmakers failed to address all the shortcomings the judge identified when she first found the law disenfranchised as many as 600,000 registered black, Hispanic and low-income voters.

Texas’s law allowed citizens to cast ballots only if they could show one of seven government-issued photo ID cards, including handgun licenses. Accepted forms of identification excluded student IDs or government employee badges, which the judge said were more likely to be possessed by minorities than the approved ID cards largely held by white voters.

Lawmakers later adopted the judge’s interim measure allowing citizens to vote by showing alternatives such as voter registration cards, utility bills, pay stubs or government checks, but added the threat of jail time for individuals who lied about their inability to obtain one of the approved ID cards.

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