A fight against the state's contentious voter ID laws escalated this week when Dallas County became the first Texas county to claim that the requirements would disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters.
In a 3-2 vote on Tuesday, the Dallas County Commissioners Court voted to join U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, in a lawsuit urging a federal district court to issue an injunction against the voter ID law. The law requires voters to present one of seven forms of state or federal identification or a so-called election identification certificate, which can be obtained from the state's Department of Public Safety.
On Wednesday in an appearance on MSNBC, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins applauded the commissioners' decision. Jenkins said 220,000 of 1.1 million total registered voters in Dallas County indicated they did not have the required forms of ID to vote.
"Dallas County just could not sit idly by while the state's Republican leaders disenfranchised African-American and Latino voters," Jenkins said, adding that Hispanics are 46 percent more likely to lack the required form of ID to vote, according to the U.S. attorney general.
Dallas County joins Veasey and seven other plaintiffs, who include a physically disabled African-American veteran who lacks the required photo ID, a Tarrant County resident whose name on her driver's license does not match the full name on her voter registration certificate and a Galveston County constable who claims the voter ID law will discourage his supporters from voting.
A hearing is set for Sept. 27, and the case is likely to go to trial next summer, said Chad Dunn, the attorney representing the plaintiffs.
The voter ID law was held up in court after the Republican-dominated Legislature passed the measure in 2011. But state officials said the law would take effect after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act that kept states from changing their election laws without seeking federal approval. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has since vowed to push for the reinstatement of federal oversight in Texas.
Republicans say the voter ID law will help prevent voter fraud, while opponents say it will make it harder for minorities to vote and impose a financial burden on people who need to obtain an accepted form of identification. Although the Department of Public Safety says the election identification certificate is free, applicants must bring documentation of citizenship status and identity, which is sometimes difficult to obtain.
"People can't even get the underlying documents they need to get it because those documents don't exist" in some cases, Dunn said. "They are no less American eligible citizens than you and I."
Some critics also claim there are not enough DPS offices in the state to distribute the accepted forms of identification and that this hurts rural voters who may live far from a location. DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said there are 227 full-time DPS offices located throughout the state.
"Many Texans already have the necessary identification for voting," Vinger said, adding, "Of the approximately 80 inquiries we've received regarding [election identification certificates], many individuals already had the necessary photo identification required to vote."
Only seven election certificates have been issued so far statewide, Vinger said.
Since the Supreme Court ruling, several Texas counties have already held local elections with the voter ID law in place, according to the secretary of state's office, although spokeswoman Alicia Pierce could not confirm the total number of elections.
Under the voter ID provisions, the South Texas town of Edinburg will hold a special election for an open seat on its City Council later this month, and the Galveston Independent School District will hold an election in late August asking voters to decide on whether to send property taxes to the state.
Pierce said the secretary of state's office has been working with county election officials to help educate voters and campaign workers. She said the state is finalizing a media campaign to educate Texans on the new requirements.
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