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The Brief: March 13, 2012

Yet another election controversy has pushed Texas into the middle of a national fight over voting rights.

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The Big Conversation:

Yet another election controversy has pushed Texas into the middle of a national fight over voting rights.

Just weeks after legal wrangling over redistricting thrust Texas into the spotlight, the U.S. Justice Department on Monday blocked Texas' contentious voter ID law, ruling that it would disproportionately dampen turnout among Hispanic voters.

In a letter to Texas' election division, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez wrote that the state could not prove the law — which would require voters in the state to present a form of photo identification at the polls — would not disenfranchise minority voters. According to the federal Voting Rights Act, Texas and 15 other states with a history of discriminatory voting practices must receive approval, or preclearance, from the Justice Department before implementing laws that affect voting practices.

"Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card, and that disparity is statistically significant," Perez wrote.

State legislators passed the law during the 2011 session at the urging of Gov. Rick Perry, who deemed the measure an emergency. Republicans said the law would prevent voter fraud; Democrats called it a ploy to disenfranchise minority voters. Several states led by Republican governors have enacted similar laws since the GOP's sweep of several statehouses in 2010. But experts say the Texas case stands a good chance of reaching the U.S. Supreme Court.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott had already filed suit in January to defend the measure if the federal government denied the state preclearance. “Texas should be allowed the same authority other states have to protect the integrity of elections," Abbott said in a statement on Monday. "To fast-track that authority, Texas is taking legal action in a D.C. court seeking approval of its voter identification law.”

In an attempt to counter Abbott, the Texas NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus — two minority groups that oppose the law — announced Monday that they had filed a motion to intervene in the state's lawsuit against the federal government.

Unlike the redistricting process, though, don't expect Monday's voter ID ruling to bring any more election disruptions. Election administrators, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, have been told to proceed with the state's May 29 elections under the previous law.

Culled:

  • Texas wasn't the only state whose voter ID law took a hit on Monday. In Wisconsin, which passed its voter ID legislation last year under the leadership of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a judge blocked the state's law on similar grounds yesterday, three weeks before Wisconsin's April 3 primaries. The Wisconsin state Department of Justice has said it will appeal the ruling.
  • The Houston Chronicle reports that U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Rep. Garnet Coleman, both Houston Democrats, are negotiating with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to find funding for the state's Women's Health Program, which was set to expire at the end of the month after Republicans blocked Planned Parenthood from participating and the federal government objected. Gov. Rick Perry said last week that the state wouldn't let the program die, but Jackson Lee and Coleman on Monday said they doubted the state would be able to find the money. Under an alternative program, they said, the federal government could grant funds to local entities like hospitals and clinics.
  • Comptroller Susan Combs has spent millions of tax dollars to help draw sporting events to Texas. But as the Tribune's Jay Root reports, critics are raising questions about spending on events that originated in Texas and don’t appear to be leaving the state anytime soon, like the Cotton and Alamo Bowls.

“I am flattered that my name keeps surfacing for public office but I have no firm plans to run this election year or in 2014.”George P. Bush, son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush, to the Austin American-Statesman in an email. Bush is said to be exploring a run for Texas land commissioner in 2014.

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