Testimony Ends, But Voter ID Decision Could Be Far Off

Update, 5:30 p.m.: In a press call Friday, Attorney General Greg Abbott reiterated his belief that the number of people who the Department of Justice argues would be disenfranchised by the Texas voter ID law is "grossly inflated," and includes people who have died, are in the state illegally or are felons.

"The Texas voter ID law does not disenfranchise voters," Abbott said, adding that the opposition did not offer a single witness who would be denied the ability to vote.

Abbott also addressed questions from critics about the lack of voter fraud cases in Texas and the need for voter ID to prevent that crime. He said the U.S. Supreme Court's approval of similar legislation in other states already answered that question.

“Texas has far more proven examples of voter fraud than what was proven in the Indiana case," he said.

Original story:

Testimony in the trial over Texas’ voter ID law, which pits the state against the U.S. Department of Justice, concluded Friday in a Washington D.C., federal district court after a week of back-and-forth about whether requiring photo ID from voters would disenfranchise the elderly and minorities.

But an ultimate decision is unlikely to come soon. Supporters of the law hope preclearance will be granted in time for the new rules to be implemented for the November election. But if that happens, opponents could still appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and request a stay to delay the law’s implementation.

Witnesses on both sides testified about whether the law demonstrates a discriminatory intent or effect, which is prohibited by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The state and the DOJ were each allotted 10 hours to make their arguments before the district court. Defendant intervenors who joined in the case against the state, including the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, were allotted a total of five hours of trial time.

The state argued that a photo ID was needed to prevent voter fraud, while the DOJ and intervenors said that the requirement would affect minorities disproportionately. 

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, who was called by the DOJ to testify Tuesday, said Tuesday that the testimony over the first two days continued to highlight confusion over the precise number of Texans who could be disenfranchised by the bill, ranging from 795,000 as the state has reported to 1.5 million as counted by the DOJ.

In a news release Thursday, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said that the DOJ's evidence was lacking and that its lawyers "relied on flawed data and unreliable expert conclusions."

Members of the federal three-judge panel in Washington will now spend several weeks – or months – reviewing testimony before issuing a decision. The court said in an order filed in May that the state could implement the new requirements for the November election if a decision is granted by Aug. 31.

“Based on Texas’ request for expedited review so that it may implement S.B. 14 prior to the November election, this Court set a rigorous schedule for expedited discovery, briefing and trial,” the order explains.

Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the Texas secretary of state, said the office is planning a fall voting campaign that will involve TV, radio and online advertising, along with community visits by Secretary of State Hope Andrade, to help educate voters, whether preclearance of voter ID law is granted or not. 

If the voter ID law gets preclearance, Parsons said, "then a very significant part of that message would be to educate the public on photo ID requirements and how they can comply with photo ID requirements."

Parsons said that outlining any step-by-step plan for how the public will be informed about the implementation of the new law would be "premature." But he added that the secretary of state's office is prepared to immediately begin informing the public of the new requirements, if needed. 

The Texas Department of Public Safety would oversee the creation and distribution of new voting-specific photo ID cards, called "election identification certificates," promised by the state.

Regardless of what the district court rules, though, several lawyers said they expect that a verdict on the voter ID law will ultimately be up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Attorney General Greg Abbott will appeal if the court denies preclearance, said AG spokesperson Lauren Bean. The Department of Justice declined to comment.

Defendant intervenors say it is too early to decide whether their side would appeal.

“I think it depends on how the opinion is written,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, who was called by the DOJ to testify Tuesday. “For an appeal, you really do need to wait until an opinion is rendered, and then you can assess your chances of success on appeal and then make a decision on that point.”

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