Texas Voter ID Law Ruled Unconstitutional

(Update, 8/4: Texas has agreed to soften its voter ID law before the November elections. This means that as many as 600,000 eligible voters who did not have one of the seven documents that the voter ID law required could now vote in the upcoming elections.)

A controversial Voter ID law in Texas was struck down by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit yesterday, citing its violation of the Voting Rights Act. The 9-6 majority ruling (the entire 200-page opinion of which is available here) was largely welcomed by members of both parties, and deemed to have a “discriminatory effect” on voters. Voter ID laws in other states have been given the exact same criticism.

Voter ID laws have been the subject of scorn for the last few years, when the Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013 broke apart a crucial section of the Voting Rights Act and gave states total autonomy in the creation of voting laws. The decision created a waterfall of states making their laws more strict or enacting completely new laws to suppress the vote. This particular case has gone back and forth in the courts numerous times since its enactment in 2011, but it appears it has been struck down for good.

Texas’ voter ID law was among the most strict in the nation. In order to vote, one had to have any of the following:

  • Texas driver’s license or state ID card
  • Election ID certificate
  • Concealed handgun permit
  • U.S. military ID card
  • U.S. citizenship certificate with a photo or a U.S. passport

However, things like student IDs, employee IDs and utility bills were not accepted. It would seem strange, especially, for example, to a student at the University of Texas from another state, that a concealed handgun permit would qualify as sufficient identification, but a student ID doesn’t. All of these are problematic. What if you just moved there and weren’t able to file an absentee ballot in your home state before you left? What if you don’t drive, don’t have a gun, aren’t military, and don’t have a passport because you never travel internationally? There are far more problems created than solved by these laws.

Why are voter id laws unconstitutional?

First, it’s important to know the difference between voter fraud and election fraud, two terms that are commonly confused or combined with the other. Voter fraud means that someone is trying to vote twice, or without being registered. Election fraud means that a candidate or someone overseeing the election is attempting to tamper with the results. Voter ID laws specifically deal with voter fraud.

Voter fraud is very, very rare. In Texas, there were four – count ’em, four – cases of voter fraud between 2000 and 2014, when a total of 72 million votes were cast in elections held during that time frame. That’s a 1 in 18 million chance of it happening, and yet many officials in Texas want people to believe that it’s a rampant problem. But this is simply not the case. So why is it unconstitutional? In many studies, it has been found that voter ID laws suppress votes, and it seems to single out those in minority groups, particularly African-Americans.

This case could very well appear in the Supreme Court within the next year, but given the current deadlock to appoint a 9th judge to the high bench, it will likely be sometime after the November elections. So this ruling will have a large impact on voting in Texas. But for now, cases of voter fraud are anecdotal at best, and the discriminatory effect these laws have could very well see an overturning of Shelby County v. Holder, reinstating Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which would subsequently dismantle all voter ID laws.

*Featured Image By Tom Arthur [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

B. Clausen

A graduate of the University of Kansas, Brian Clausen is the U.S. news reporter for Dopplr. Before joining the team, he created digital content for large companies.

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