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Voter ID Still Languishing at the Department of Justice

Two weeks after it was originally scheduled to go in to effect, Texas’ voter ID law is back in the hands of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Two weeks after Texas’ voter ID law was scheduled to go into effect, the measure is back in the U.S. Department of Justice’s hands.

The Texas secretary of state’s office on Thursday submitted its latest batch of data in hopes of satisfying the federal government’s request for proof that the law, SB 14 by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, will not disenfranchise minority or lower-income voters. The law, passed during the 82nd Texas Legislature, would require voters to furnish a state-issued ID before casting a ballot.

Under Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department reserves the right to review laws that affect voter participation before they are enacted. The federal government now has 60 days to review the recently submitted information and render a decision.

The latest submission was the latest in a months-long exchange between the state and the federal government after the latter has repeatedly asked the state provide a specific data set about minority voters.

The state submitted its original preclearance request in July but was told in September that it did not provide adequate information for the department 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.”

Specifically, the department wanted the racial breakdown and residences of the estimated 605,500 voters who do not have a state-issued license or ID, and how many of them have Spanish surnames. The same information was requested for registered voters who have valid IDs.

In October the state responded, saying it does not collect information about a prospective voter’s race when someone registers. Instead it provided a list of every Hispanic surname in Texas, as recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau, and offered to check that against the list of registered voters to determine how many voters have Hispanic names. It also offered to use Department of Public Safety data to assist in compiling a breakdown of the information requested.

In November, the department said it wanted more information, which is what the state hopes it provided Thursday. Its submission included the number of registered voters who have provided a DPS ID number when they registered as well as racial information provided to the DPS. But it still warns that the information is unreliable.

“By requesting Spanish surname data, the DOJ’s request acknowledges that the DPS database does not accurately reflect the number of Hispanic voters in Texas who possess a driver’s license or photo identification card,” Keith Ingram, the director of the state’s elections division wrote to the department.

“Nonetheless, in a good faith attempt to satisfy the DOJ’s request, the State has compiled the requested data - despite the State’s reservations about the reliability of that data.”

The reliability could be affected in part because of voters not being asked to identify their race when they register; because name changes, the use of initials and nicknames in DPS data could lead to significant mismatches; and because it isn’t possible to determine if a Hispanic surname is representative of a voter’s race or a name change because of marriage or adoption, the state says.

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