Justice Dept. Blocks Texas on Photo ID for Voting

March 13, 2012
By , The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department’s civil rights division on Monday blocked Texas from enforcing a new law requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls, contending that the law would disproportionately suppress turnout among eligible Hispanic voters.

The decision, which follows a similar move in December blocking a law in South Carolina, brought the Obama administration deeper into the politically and racially charged fight over a wave of new voting restrictions, enacted largely by Republicans in the name of combating voter fraud.

In a letter to the Texas state government, Thomas E. Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, said the state had failed to meet its requirement, under the Voting Rights Act, to show that the measure would not disproportionately disenfranchise registered minority voters.

“Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card,” Mr. Perez wrote, “and that disparity is statistically significant.”

Texas has roughly 12.8 million registered voters, of whom about 2.8 million are Hispanic. The state had supplied two sets of data comparing its voter rolls with a list of people who had valid state-issued photo identification cards — one from September and the other from January — showing that Hispanic voters were 46.5 percent to 120 percent more likely to lack such identification than were non-Hispanics.

Under the Voting Rights Act, jurisdictions that have a history of suppressing minority voting — like Texas — must show that any proposed change to voting rules would not have a disproportionate effect on minority voters, even if there is no evidence of discriminatory intent.

Such “pre-clearance” can be granted either by the Justice Department or by a panel of federal judges.

Texas officials had argued that they would take sufficient steps to mitigate any impact of the law, including giving free identification cards to voters who lacked them. But the department said the proposed efforts were not enough, citing the bureaucratic difficulties and cost of obtaining birth certificates or other documents necessary to get the cards.

In anticipation that the administration might not clear the law, Texas officials had already asked a panel of judges to allow them to enforce the law. A hearing in that case is scheduled for this week.

To read more, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/us/justice-dept-blocks-texas-photo-id-law.html

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