Updated: Groups Urge Feds to Stop Voter ID Bill

Update: Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle released the following statement in response to the letter sent to the Department of Justice: "Voter ID was enacted to ensure the integrity of the ballot box, protecting the most cherished right we enjoy as citizens and ensuring our elections are fair beyond reproach. By applying to voting the same standard that is commonly applied in cashing a check or applying for a library card, Voter ID can ensure an accurate reflection of the will of the voters. Without confidence in our elections process, the rights of all voters are cast in doubt."

Original story:

A broad coalition of civil and minority rights groups is urging the U.S. Department of Justice today to reject Texas’ submission for preclearance of the voter ID bill legislators approved this year.

The bill, SB 14, requires voters to present a state-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, military ID, U.S. passport or concealed handgun license, before casting a ballot. Individuals are exempt from the provision if they attest under penalty of perjury that they have consistently declined to be photographed because of their religious beliefs. Currently, voters are allowed to present a host of other documents, such as utility bills, bank statements, paycheck stubs or other government documents, if they don't have a photo ID. Photo ID legislation was among the issues Gov. Rick Perry deemed emergency matters during the 82nd Texas Legislature.

Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act gives the federal government authority to review state laws that affect voter participation. The Texas Secretary of State submitted its request for preclearance to the Justice Department in July, and a decision is expected this month.

 

The coalition argues that the bill unfairly targets minority and elderly voters, echoing the argument Texas Democratic lawmakers made during the debate over the bill at the Capitol.

“This will adversely and disproportionately affect citizens of color who do not have the financial wherewithal as their White counterparts to secure the documentation necessary to meet the Act’s strict requirement,” states a letter submitted as public comment by the Advancement Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Justice Center and the Southwest Workers Union. The groups wrote that instead of actually providing proof the legislation was enacted for non-discriminatory reasons, the state relied simply on its claim that officials did not intend on diluting the voting strength of minority groups.

The Republican majority in the Texas House and Senate argued during debate on the bill that the law would stop voter fraud at the polls. Democrats challenged them to prove that such fraud existed, but they said no proof was ever shown.

The letter submitted today also challenges the existence of widespread voter fraud, and it includes the results of a study conducted by elections expert, Dr. F. Chandler Davidson, a sociology professor emeritus at Rice University. The study analyzed information collected by the Texas Attorney General’s office and found that in a two-year period, only 13 indictments, convictions or sentences were handed down alleging instances of voter fraud. Six of the accused had not been sentenced, and none of the instances involved the kind of voter impersonation the voter ID bill seeks to address.

The Texas Democratic Party sent a similar letter to the department Tuesday. In a statement, the group says the bill is akin to a modern-day poll tax.

“There is no evidence of voter impersonation in Texas,” said Rebecca Acuña, the party’s deputy political director. "Rick Perry and his Republican-dominated legislature are simply trying to suppress the votes of communities who don’t favor their failed policies."

Should preclearance be granted, the voter ID bill will become law in January. Perry's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.