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Abbott: MALC Attorney's Actions "Unethical"

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus are sparring again over voter ID. This time, it’s Abbott’s turn to accuse the group of trying to suppress the vote.

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Updated Aug. 19, 4:55 p.m.:

In a statement released Monday afternoon, MALC attorney Jose Garza addressed Abbott’s claims, and said he has never encouraged anyone to violate the law.

“For those that are eligible and registered, but cannot obtain a valid photo ID as required by SB 14, I would advise them to also go vote and possibly cast a provisional ballot,” he said. “Do not stay home and allow a discriminatory law to suppress your vote and voice. That is my message to Edinburg’s voters.”

Garza then revisited details of a federal court ruling in August 2012 that struck down SB 14 after the three-judge panel ruled it was a discriminatory measure.

The statement is below:

Today, the attorney general questioned my integrity and said that I am advising voters to come to the polls without the photo identification that is now required to vote. Let me be very clear and set the record straight, I have never encouraged Texans to violate the law.

Everyone who is legally registered and eligible to vote ought to go vote. For those that are eligible and registered, but cannot obtain a valid photo ID as required by SB 14, I would advise them to also go vote and possibly cast a provisional ballot. Do not stay home and allow a discriminatory law to suppress your vote and voice. That is my message to Edinburg’s voters.

A federal court denied preclearance to Texas’ voter/photo ID law, stating that the undisputed record of evidence demonstrated that the voter identification requirement would have harmed the right to vote for many Texas minorities. Just because Section 5 is not in effect at the moment does not mean that the retrogressive effect of the photo identification requirement does not exist. I would advise the attorney general to do everything in his power to address the concerns of the D.C. Federal District Court and alleviate the undue burden that is being placed on the poor to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

General Abbott’s statement about my personal integrity is yet another ill-advised tactic to evade responsibility and accountability for seeking the implementation of an unjust and, I believe, unconstitutional law. If the citizens of Edinburg cannot vote, it is not because of me, but because of a law designed to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of poor and minority voters.

Original story:

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday called a lawyer for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus unethical for his suggestion that people in the Rio Grande Valley attempt to vote without a photo ID.

Jose Garza, a lawyer who represents MALC in its fights against the state of Texas on voter ID and redistricting, reportedly encouraged voters in Edinburg to try to cast a ballot in next month’s city council elections without a photo ID. State lawmakers passed the voter ID bill — which requires voters to show one of several state- or federally issued forms of ID to vote — in 2011, but it was kept on hold until a June U.S. Supreme Court decision made its implementation possible. 

“I would encourage everybody who wants to test this law to go and attempt to cast their ballot using their voter registration card,” Garza told the Rio Grande Guardian last week. “Let us test the impact of this law. We need to be able to measure how many people this law kept from voting.”

Abbott, whose office sued the Obama administration when the federal government originally blocked the ID requirement, said Monday that Garza is the one guilty of trying to suppress the vote, the common argument for opponents of the photo requirement who call the measure a 21st-century poll tax.

“It is always unethical for a lawyer to advise someone to violate Texas law. Even worse, Garza’s advice does not inform voters to bring one of the acceptable forms of voter ID,” Abbott said in a statement. “Instead, in an attempt to create a false impression that voter ID suppresses votes, the unethical advice is to come to the polls without the needed ID.”

MALC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the Guardian story, Garza conceded that his advice could disenfranchise some voters and influence the election’s outcome — but said the fight to stop voter suppression is worth it. “It is better than staying home," he told the Guardian

In his statement, Abbott urged voters not to ignore the law.

“Voting is one of our most important rights, and the best advice we can offer Texans is to ignore the voices of those telling you to ignore state law,” Abbott said. “Instead, make sure you have everything you need in order to vote. If you don’t currently have one of these IDs, please take the steps now to get one, including the free Election Identification Certificate that can be obtained at all DPS driver license offices.”

Under the law, acceptable forms of photo ID include a state-issued ID, driver’s license or concealed handgun license; a military ID, a U.S. passport or passcard; a citizenship or naturalization certificate; or an election identification certificate.

The election certificate is a free ID voters can only use to cast a ballot. As of July 26, the state had only issued six such documents statewide.

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