On Tuesday, a federal court in Washington found that Texas’s redistricting maps violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and were “enacted with discriminatory purpose.” On Thursday a separate three-judge federal court panel in Washington unanimously found that Texas’s voter ID law also violated Section 5 by discriminating against minority voters.
For background, see my earlier posts “DOJ Blocks Discriminatory Texas Voter ID Law” and “Discriminatory Texas Voter ID Law Challenged in Federal Court.”
In March the Justice Department objected to Texas’s voter ID law. Among the reasons: the state admitted that between 603,892 to 795,955 registered in voters in Texas lacked government-issued photo ID, with Hispanic voters between 46.5 percent to 120 percent more likely than whites to not have the new voter ID; to obtain one of the five government-issued IDs now needed to vote, voters must first pay for underlying documents to confirm their identity, the cheapest option being a birth certificate for $22 (otherwise known as a "poll tax"); Texas has DMV offices in only eighty-one of 254 counties in the state, with some voters needing to travel up to 250 miles to obtain a new voter ID. Counties with a significant Hispanic population are less likely to have a DMV office, while Hispanic residents in such counties are twice as likely as whites to not have the new voter ID (Hispanics in Texas are also twice as likely as whites to not have a car).
These facts also persuaded the court to block the voter ID law. Section 5 mandates that covered jurisdictions with a history of electoral discrimination—which includes parts or all of sixteen states, including much of the South—receive approval from DOJ or a federal court in Washington for any voting-related change to ensure that it does not make it harder for minority citizens to be able to vote (known in the legal parlance as “retrogression”).
Here’s the key section from the court ruling:
Texas bears the burden of proving that nothing in SB 14 “would lead to a retrogression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise.” Because all of Texas’s evidence on retrogression is some combination of invalid, irrelevant, and unreliable, we have little trouble concluding that Texas has failed to carry its burden.
To the contrary, record evidence suggests that SB 14, if implemented, would in fact have a retrogressive effect on Hispanic and African American voters. This conclusion flows from three basic facts: (1) a substantial subgroup of Texas voters, many of whom are African American or Hispanic, lack photo ID; (2) the burdens associated with obtaining ID will weigh most heavily on the poor; and (3) racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty.
The court elaborated:
According to undisputed U.S. Census data, the poverty rate in Texas is 25.8% for Hispanics and 23.3% for African Americans, compared to just 8.8% for whites. This means that the burdens of obtaining [voter ID] will almost certainly fall more heavily on minorities, a concern well recognized by those who work in minority communities.