Feds Hold Off Approving Texas' Voter ID Bill

The Department of Justice advised the Texas Secretary of State today that its request for preclearance of the contentious voter ID bill lacked enough information for the government to render a decision.

The bill, SB 14, by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, would require that voters present a valid state-issued ID before casting a ballot. Gov. Rick Perry deemed the legislation an emergency item during the regular session of the 82nd Texas Legislature. The bill is scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, 2012.

Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act gives the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal courts the authority to review laws that would affect voter participation before they are enacted. Democrats and civil rights groups have argued that the new requirement would adversely affect minority populations and the elderly who do not have immediate access to identification. Republicans championed the measure as a way to stomp out voter fraud in Texas.

In a letter to the state, T. Christian Herren, the chief of DOJ's Voting Section, said Texas submitted its application in July but did not provide adequate information for it to determine if the “proposed changes have neither the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group."

The state must now re-submit the request with the additional information that, among others things, describes the federally mandated voter-education program the state will implement, how election officials will be trained to correctly implement SB 14, and more details about the 605,576 registered voters who do not currently possess a valid ID. The department specifically asks the state to identify how many members of that group have Spanish surnames, which counties they reside in and an estimated number by race. The DOJ also requests the Secretary of State provide the number of registered voters in Texas with a Spanish surname who currently possess a legal form of identification.

The DOJ did not oppose all aspects of the law, including provisions that would raise the penalty for illegal voting from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony and increase the penalty for attempting to vote illegally from a Class A misdemeanor to a state jail felony.

The department says the U.S. attorney general will have 60 additional days to review the state’s revised proposal.

 

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