Jan. 1, the date the controversial voter ID law is scheduled to take effect, is fast approaching. But a decision from the federal government on whether the bill will disenfranchise voters is not.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Voting Rights Division, which has the final say on whether the bill, which would require that voters furnish a photo ID before casting a ballot, is discriminatory, told the state it is restarting the clock and could take an additional 60 days to make a determination.
The latest snag for the state came in a letter dated Wednesday Nov. 16 informing the Texas secretary of state’s office it needed more information on how many registered voters with Spanish surnames had current or recently expired IDs. The DOJ also sought the voters’ counties of residence. The DOJ originally requested the information in September, but the state responded in October that it couldn’t provide that breakdown because voters aren’t asked to provide race when they register. Instead, the state submitted a list of all the Hispanic surnames in Texas, as determined by the census. It also offered to run that list against the list of registered voters to determine how many have Hispanic names and provided a spreadsheet showing how many registered voters resided in each county as of Sept. 16. The spreadsheet shows how many voters did not provide an ID when they registered to vote, how many voters did not provide an ID but whose records matched an ID record in the Department of Public Safety database and those who did not provide an ID and could not be matched with a DPS record.
But that’s not quite going to do it, the DOJ responded. So the state said it could also try to use the Department of Public Safety’s demographic information to compile the data. That’s where we are now.
So as the clock ticks, the request hasn’t been fulfilled. The state said Thursday it was working diligently to submit the information but cautioned it would be, at best, an estimate.
“There was a discussion about matching it up from racial and ethnic data that’s collected on driver’s licenses and personal ID cards. But as I understand it DPS didn’t include a specific category for Hispanic until 2009. So that’s going to significantly skew whatever the results are,” said Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the secretary of state.
Meanwhile the Texas Democratic Party said this week’s development means the feds are growing increasingly frustrated with Texas.
“The Republican voter suppression legislation was unquestionably created to keep certain people from voting. It’s clear that the DOJ’s patience is running out. In fact, the limited data that the state has furnished shows that Hispanic voters would be disproportionately disenfranchised,” Rebecca Acuña, a party spokeswoman, said in a statement.