State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, on Friday asked the Texas secretary of state’s office to make it clear to the public that photo ID requirements mandated in the controversial voter ID law will not be in effect for the May 29 primary.
The measure, SB 14, requires that voters present a valid ID, such as a driver’s license, passport or military ID, before casting a ballot. Early voting begins Monday.
Citing what he says is a lack of clarity in news reports covering the issue, Ellis wrote Secretary of State Esperanza “Hope” Andrade, asking her office take a more active role in informing the public that the law is not in effect.
“The Secretary of State serves as the chief election officer of Texas, and as such, you have a unique ability to serve as an the final authority on what laws govern our elections,” Ellis wrote. “I urge you to reach out to the public, both through the media and otherwise, and make clear what has become a confusing and overly-complicated issue.”
Rich Parsons, the communications director for the Texas Secretary of State, said the office has been working diligently to make voters aware of the situation.
“We certainly understand and respect the senator's concerns, that’s why we’ve issued multiple, statewide press releases alerting voters that photo ID is not in effect this election,” Parsons said. “The secretary stresses that point every stop she makes on her voter education stops around the state.”
The measure was approved by the Legislature in 2011 but the U.S. Department of Justice rejected the state’s application for preclearance of the law in March, claiming the state did not prove that the law would not have a discriminatory effect on minority voters.
It is currently tied up in federal courts and the earliest trial date possible, according to the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., isn't until July – and that is only if the state can meet strict deadlines the court imposed this week.
In related news, the Department of Justice also announced Friday that it will send federal observers to monitor Saturday’s municipal elections in Dallas, Galveston and Jasper Counties to ensure compliance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which was enacted to prevent voter suppression based on race or minority status.
Staff will watch and record activities at various polling places in those counties and department attorneys will communicate with local election officials throughout the day, the department said in a statement.
The department said it is authorized under the act to send observers to jurisdictions that are certified by the U.S. attorney general or by a court order.
Parsons said the office doesn’t know what prompted the department to send the observers, but welcomed the visitors to Texas.
“We hope they enjoy their stay,” he said.