(NEW YORK) MintPress — The decision by a federal court last week to strike down a Texas voter ID law is a major blow to that state’s legislators as well as Republican lawmakers and governors around the country who are pushing for similar stringent identification requirements.
The rejection highlights what is becoming an increasingly contentious political issue ahead of the November elections.
Republicans claim they are seeking the laws to stamp out voter fraud, but Democrats, with the support of a number of studies, say fraud at the polls is largely non-existent and that the GOP is simply trying to disenfranchise minorities, poor people and college students, all of whom tend to back the Democratic Party.
The three-judge panel in Washington unanimously ruled that the Texas law imposes “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor” and noted that “a disproportionately high percentage of African-Americans and Hispanics in Texas live in poverty.”
Judge David Tatel, an appeals court judge appointed by President Bill Clinton, called the Texas law “the most stringent in the nation.” He said it would impose a heavier burden on voters than a similar law in Indiana, previously upheld by the Supreme Court, and one in Georgia, which the Justice Department allowed to take effect.
During an appearance in Houston in July, Attorney General Eric Holder said Texas’ photo ID requirement amounts to a poll tax, a term that goes back to the days after Reconstruction when blacks across the South were stripped of their right to vote.
Holder told the NAACP that many Texas voters trying to cast ballots would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain the required photo ID.
The ruling marked the second time in a week that a federal court admonished the Texas state legislature. A different panel of judges decided earlier that a congressional district plan drawn up by the legislature was specifically crafted to discriminate against Hispanic voters by limiting their influence.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the state would appeal the voter ID ruling and take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Next up: South Carolina
Last December, South Carolina’s voter ID requirement became the first such law to be rejected by the Justice Department in nearly 20 years.
It found that the law would have a disproportionate impact on minority voters and that as many as 500,000 registered South Carolina voters do not have the ID that would have been required to cast a ballot.
In a Dec. 23 letter, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez wrote that the state showed no evidence that voter fraud existed that couldn’t be addressed by current state laws.
South Carolina’s chief prosecutor later issued a legal challenge against the federal government’s decision. In a lawsuit filed in federal court, state Attorney General Alan Wilson asked a three-judge panel to rule that Holder shouldn’t be allowed to limit the state’s right to enact the law.
A week of testimony in the trial finished on Friday, with state officials having shown no examples of actual in-person voter impersonation fraud. They have also conceded that requiring a photo ID to vote would not actually prevent a determined voter impersonator from voting as someone else.
Closing arguments are scheduled for Sept. 24, six weeks before the Nov. 6 election.
Wilson said the law, if approved by the panel, would go into effect immediately. If it’s struck down, the state could appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Spotlight on the South
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Texas, South Carolina and all or parts of 14 other states must obtain clearance from the Justice Department’s civil rights division or a federal court before carrying out changes in election rules.
The states are mostly in the South and all have a history of discriminating against blacks, American Indians, Asian-Americans and Hispanics.
Last year, new voter ID laws passed in Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. In addition to Texas and South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee tightened existing voter ID laws to require a photo ID.
Governors in Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire and North Carolina vetoed strict new photo ID laws.
This year, Pennsylvania enacted its own law and voting-rights groups who filed suit in an effort to stop it are appealing to the state Supreme Court. A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 13 in Philadelphia.
The Justice Department is requesting the state’s voter registration list, plus any database of registered voters who lack a valid photo ID that the law requires voters to show before their ballots can be counted. The administration of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett says the inquiry into the law is politically motivated.
In Wisconsin, a county judge ruled in July that the state’s new photo ID law impairs the right to vote. In an appeal, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, is arguing that the ID law doesn’t impose an undue burden because voters can get free state ID cards.
Since the last election, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin and other states have tried to limit or ban the use of student IDs as voter identification. In Florida, lawmakers tried to limit “third party” organizations, including student groups, from registering new voters.
A report by the Brennan Center for Justice determined that new voting restrictions could suppress the votes of more than 5 million young, minority, low-income and disabled voters.
Perhaps the use of these tactics should be considered the real voter fraud.
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