Look up at your clock. By this same hour tomorrow, more than 1,500 US-born Latinos will have celebrated a milestone birthday, and turned 18. They’ll be eligible to vote in local, state and federal elections in their home states—but if that state is Texas, that right is under threat.
A case being heard this week by a panel of judges in DC will determine if Texas can demand strict forms of photo ID at the polls. The Lone Star State passed the bill and it was signed into law early this year. But what’s more broadly in question is the federal government’s continued power under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Under the Voting Rights Act, Texas, along with other states that have historically discriminated against people of color around elections, must seek preclearance from the Department of Justice for changes to voting districts or regulations. And in the case of Texas’ voter ID law, that permission was denied. Texas admits that more than 600,000 people lack the necessary identification required—but insists that the law isn’t discriminatory because no-cost ID will be made available, and voters who still lack ID will still be able to cast provisional ballots.
But even when they’re free, IDs are not always so easy to acquire. In Mississippi, another Southern state waiting on DOJ preclearance, voters need a birth certificate to get an ID—but can’t get that birth certificate unless they already have an ID in their possession. And provisional ballots are often challenged, so casting one does not guarantee that the vote will count.
Civil rights groups, meanwhile, argue that the law discriminates against Latinos and other marginalized groups; the DOJ argues that Texas hasn't proven the law doesn't have a discriminatory effect–and it's the state's burden to do so* . When Attorney General Eric Holder addressed the National Council of La Raza this past weekend, he made clear that the DOJ is vigilantly watching threats to voting rights through “redistricting plans, photo identification requirements, and changes affecting third party registration,” not just for Latinos and other people of color, but also for people with disabilities and those living abroad.