The U.S. Department of Justice rejected Texas’ application for preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of its voter ID law, saying the state did not prove that the bill would not have a discriminatory effect on minority voters.
States with a history of enacting voting rights restrictions designed to disenfranchise minority votes must have laws that change voting procedure “precleared” by the Department of Justice to ensure such laws are fair to minority voters. The requirement has always drawn the ire of conservatives and the Roberts Court has indicated it wants to revisit the requirements of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
According to Texas’ own data, a Hispanic registered voter is at least 46.5% and potentially more than 120% more likely than a non-Hispanic registered voter to lack the required identification. From the Department of Justice:
ď[A]n applicant for an election identification certificate will have to travel to a driverís license office. This raises three discrete issues. First, according to the most recent American Community Survey three-year estimates, 7.3 percent of Hispanic or Latino households do not have an available vehicle, as compared with only 3.8 percent of non-Hispanic white households that lack an available vehicle. Statistically significant correlations exist between the Hispanic voting-age population percentage of a county, and the percentage of occupied housing units without a vehicle.”
“Second, in 81 of the stateís 254 counties, there are no operational driverís license offices. The disparity in the rates between Hispanics and non-Hispanics with regard to the possession of either a driverís license or personal identification card issued by DPS is particularly stark in counties without driverís license offices. According to the September 2011 data, 10.0 percent of Hispanics in counties without driverís license offices do not have either form of identification, compared to 5.5 percent of non-Hispanics. According to the January 2012 data, that comparison is 14.6 percent of Hispanics in counties without driverís license offices, as compared to 8.8 percent of non-Hispanics. During the legislative hearings, one senator stated that some voters in his district could have to travel up to 176 miles roundtrip in order to reach a driverís license office. The legislature tabled amendments that would have, for example, provided reimbursement to voters who live below the poverty line for travel expenses incurred in applying for the requisite identification.Ē
For its part Texas was anticipating the rejection (meaning they acknowledge this voter ID law does disproportionately impact minority voters) and plans to continue on with a lawsuit it filed last month to have the bill implemented immediately. The Justice Department has until April 9 to respond to the suit.
Photo from League of Women Voters of California via flickr.