Feds: Voter ID Law "Legally Unenforceable," Can't Rule Out "Discriminatory Purpose"

State legislation requiring voters to present state-issued identification such as a driver's license, a concealed-carry permit, or a U.S. passport or military ID was rejected Monday morning by the U.S. Department of Justice.

"Because we conclude that the state has failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that the proposed law will not have a retrogressive effect, we do not make any determination as to whether the state has established that the proposed changes were adopted with no discriminatory purpose," DOJ said in a letter to Texas' director of elections.

Citing census data, DOJ points out that nearly 22 percent of registered voters in Texas are Hispanic. But they comprise 38 percent of the voting population lacking a state-issued ID. Hispanic registered voters are anywhere from 46 to 120 percent more likely to lack state-issued ID. The state has not "met its burden of showing that the proposed changes have neither the purpose nor the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color or membership in a language minority group."


Nor has it explained, DOJ continued, why a concealed-carry license is kosher, but tribal identification isn't. It also fails to account for the role economic hardship plays in getting an ID. Some 7.3 percent of Hispanic households don't have a car, compared with 3.8 percent of non-Latino households. Considering that 81 of Texas' 254 counties don't have a DPS office, the feds have concluded that the law would deter registered Hispanic voters from exercising their constitutional rights.

"Even after submitting data that show over 600,000 registered voters do not have have either a driver's license or personal identification card issued by DPS -- and that a disproportionate share of those registered voters are Hispanic -- the state has failed to propose, much less adopt, any program for individuals who have to travel a significant distance to a DPS office, who have limited access to transportation, or who are unable to get to a DPS office during their hours of operation. This failure is particularly noteworthy given Texas's geography and demographics, which arguably make the necessity for mitigating measures greater than in other states. The state also has not developed any specific proposals to educate either voters about how to comply with the new identification requirement or poll officials about how to enforce the proposed change."

In essence, the DOJ has determined that the State of Texas hasn't proved that this isn't simply another perennial GOP effort to undermine constituencies who may not cast a ballot their way. As the former political director for the Republican Party of Texas once said in the Houston Chronicle, "Among Republicans it is an 'article of religious faith that voter fraud is causing us to lose elections,' Royal Masset said. He doesn't agree with that, but does believe that requiring photo IDs could cause enough of a drop-off in legitimate Democratic voting to add 3 percent to the Republican vote."

A spokesperson for the Texas Secretary of State didn't respond as of this posting. Until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rules on a challenge by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Texas' voter ID law remains "legally unenforceable."

Update: The Texas Secretary of State office sends this statement: "The Dept. of Justice's decision is extremely disappointing, especially since the data they demanded came from matching two separate data sets never designed to be matched, and their agency was warned that matches from these data sets would be very misleading," said Secretary of State Hope Andrade. "My office will continue working with the Texas Attorney General's Office in seeking to implement the will of the citizens of Texas, as enacted by our duly elected representatives in the Texas Legislature."

Now, about those data sets: According to the DOJ, the state never explained why there was such a striking difference between the census data sets whose origins are only four months apart. "More significantly, it declined to offer an opinion on which of the two data sets is more accurate. Accordingly, we have considered both in reviewing your submission," DOJ writes.

Andrade seems to be insinuating that the DOJ has conflated the two census data sets, thereby skewing its take. This is misleading. Per Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez of the DOJ Civil Rights Division: "Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver's license or a personal identification card issued by the DPS, and that disparity is statistically significant."

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Brantley Hargrove