A judge found — for the second time — that a voter identification law was deliberately crafted to discriminate against minorities and weaken their power at the ballot box. The ruling follows one that came last month that also found the law to be intentionally discriminatory, saying that Republican lawmakers used racial gerrymandering when drawing voting maps in congressional districts in 2011.
The latest voter ID ruling by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi comes more than two years after she likened the ballot-box rules in Texas, known as SB 14, to a “poll tax” meant to suppress minority voters. On Monday, she reaffirmed that conclusion after an appeals court asked her to go back and re-examine her findings.
The decision raises the possibility that Texas could have its right to change election laws without federal permission removed, which has been a goal of Democrats for several years
The law requires voters to produce one of seven forms of identification at the polls, including concealed handgun licenses, military identification, or a passport, but not college student IDs. Opponents of the law have argued that the rule would benefit one group of potential voters, while leaving others behind.
“At some point this discrimination based on the color of Texas citizens must stop. The compact of legal protections for citizens applies without regard to race, creed, color, or national origin,” Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP, told the San Antonio Express-News.
The Texas law was softened in August to allow people without a driver’s license or other photo ID to sign an affidavit declaring that they have an impediment to obtaining required identification. Republican lawmakers, who have denied they adopted voting laws in 2011 with discriminatory purpose, are now trying to make that flexibility permanent under legislation that Gov. Greg Abbott could sign later this year.
Texas election officials, however, have acknowledged that hundreds of people were allowed to bypass the state’s toughest-in-the-nation voter ID law and improperly cast ballots in the November presidential election by signing a sworn statement instead of showing a photo ID. A recent Associated Press analysis of roughly 13,500 affidavits submitted in Texas’ largest counties found at least 500 instances in which voters were allowed to get around the law by signing an affidavit and never showing a photo ID — despite indicating that they possessed one.
“This is a great win for Texas voters,” Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, which helped represent the plaintiffs, told the Express-News. “But it shouldn’t surprise anyone who looked seriously at the evidence. Texas legislators crafted a law they knew would hurt minority voters, without any good justification or attempt to ameliorate the harms, and they mangled the legislative process to get it through.”
With reporting by the Associated Press.