The three-year-old Texas voter ID law heads to federal court on Tuesday in Corpus Christi, where a judge will determine whether the state's measure requiring voters to present photo identification at polling places is unfair to minority voters.
Conservatives backed the 2011 law, claiming it was the best way to combat voter fraud. Proponents of the law say that even if a voter doesn't have an ID, it is not something that hard to get.
“Most every Texan already has a valid ID, but if they don’t they can get one for free," said Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. "Voter ID has already been used in several elections in Texas without the disenfranchisement claimed by partisans who seem to be against election integrity.”
But opponents have said there's little evidence that voter fraud is a problem and claim the law is a way to keep voters aligned with the Democratic Party from showing to vote.
The Texas voter ID law gives state voters a choice among five forms of photo ID — including a driver's license, passport or concealed handgun license — to present to election workers at polling places.
On Tuesday, the plaintiffs, who include U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, and the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, will try to convince U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos that the law puts an unfair burden on minority voters.
The trial, expected to take two weeks, will focus on statisical data from both sides.
The case is one of the key national test cases involving the U.S. Department of Justice's attempt to deal with laws that popped up after last year's Supreme Court ruling in the Shelby County v. Holder case. In that case, the justices had struck down the part of the federal Voting Rights Act that had required Texas to submit its voting changes for federal approval, clearing the way for the Texas voter ID law.
“The question is whether the remaining parts of the Voting Rights Act can provide a good substitute for the Department of Justice to try to rein in what it views as impermissible infringement on the right to vote,” said Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California Irvine.
Texas’ law is more restrictive than similar laws in other states, Hasen said, with fewer ID options that do not include some common forms like student ID.
Gerald Hebert, one of the many attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said his research shows that about 750,000 people registered on the voter roll lack photo ID acceptable under the state’s voter ID law and that most groups who tend to lack valid identification are blacks and Hispanics.
Along with other statistics about the law's impact on voters, the plaintiffs plan to have testimony from more than a dozen frustrated registered voters who experienced issues with the voting process.
In March, after primary voting, election officials said they had not heard of any significant problems with primary voting, attributing it to the success of the ID law. Opponents said it only further distanced voters without photo ID from attempting to cast a ballot.