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Justice Department files objection to Texas voter ID law

Voters are shown in this Nov. 2, 2010, photo casting ballots in Texas.AP

The Obama administration has once more gone too far in its "overreach," Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Monday, after the Justice Department objected to the state's new voter photo ID law, saying Texas failed to demonstrate that the law is not discriminatory by design against Hispanic voters.

"Texas has a responsibility to ensure elections are fair, beyond reproach and accurately reflect the will of voters. The DOJ has no valid reason for rejecting this important law, which requires nothing more extensive than the type of photo identification necessary to receive a library card or board an airplane. Their denial is yet another example of the Obama administration's continuing and pervasive federal overreach," Perry said.

On Monday, the Justice Dpartment's head of the civil rights division, Tom Perez, sent a a six-page letter to Texas' director of elections saying that Texas has not "sustained its burden" under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to show that the new law will not have a discriminatory effect on minority voters. About 11 percent of Hispanic voters reportedly lack state-issued identification.

Perez wrote that while the state says the new photo ID requirement is to "ensure electoral integrity and deter ineligible voters from voting" the state "did not include evidence of significant in-person voter impersonation not already addressed by the state's existing laws."

Perez added that the number of people lacking any personal ID or driver's license issued by 
the state ranges from 603,892 to 795,955, but of that span, 29-38 percent of them are Hispanic. 

"According to the state's own data, a Hispanic registered voter is at least 46.5 percent, and potentially 120.0 percent, more likely than a non-Hispanic registered voter to lack this identification," Perez wrote.

"Even using the data most favorable to the state ... that disparity is statistically significant," he said.

But the two data sets, compiled in September 2011 and January 2012 were not an apples-to-apples comparison, said Texas' secretary of state, who noted the department was warned that the two data sets it used to lodge its objection were inconsistent.

"The data they demanded came from matching two separate data sets never designed to be matched, and their agency was warned that matches from these data sets would be misleading," Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade said in a statement. 

Andrade said that as a result of the objection, which she called "extremely disappointing," existing law will apply in the May 29 primary election.

"My office will continue working with the Texas Attorney General's Office in seeking to implement the will of the citizens of Texas, as enacted by our duly elected representatives in the Texas Legislature," Andrade said.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, said in a separate statement the Texas law was based on an Indiana law upheld by the Supreme Court. He also questioned what the real objection is to requiring photo ID.

"If citizens are required to show ID in order to open a bank account, cash a check, drive a car or board a plane, how much more important is it to show ID in order to exercise one of our most valuable democratic rights?" he asked. "This is an abuse of executive authority and an affront to the citizens of Texas. It's time for the Obama administration to learn not to mess with Texas."

On the other hand, a Democratic state lawmaker told the Houston Chronicle that he was thankful for the decision.

"Throughout the pre-clearance process, Texas consistently failed to produce information showing the law would not have a discriminatory impact on minority voters. The Voting Rights Act exists for this exact purpose: protecting the ability of all Americans to access the ballot box," Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, told the newspaper.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said while Democrats complain that voter fraud is a myth, both the Justice Department and Texas AG's office have prosecuted and won convictions in scores of cases. 

"Those cases include a woman who submitted her dead mother's ballot, a paid operative who cast two elderly voters' ballots after transporting them to the polling place, a city council member who unlawfully registered ineligible foreign nationals to vote in an election that was decided by a 19-vote margin" and several other notable cases, he said. 

Perez noted that the Texas law allowed voters to show military ID, a U.S. citizenship certificate, a U.S. passport or a license to carry a concealed handgun, but the state did not provide any statistics noting how many people lack state ID but have the other allowable forms. 

"Nor has the state provided any data on the demographic makeup of such voters," Perez wrote.

Texas is the second state to have its voter ID law challenged. The Justice Department already blocked a similar law from taking effect in South Carolina -- the first time a voter ID law was rejected by the department in nearly 20 years.

South Carolina sued Holder in response, arguing that enforcement of its new law will not disenfranchise any voters.

As for the Texas law, Perez wrote that while lawmakers offered to make election identification certificates available to protect low-income voters who don't already have any ID, the documents are not free, and it creates the additional burden of traveling to a driver's license office, undergoing an application process that includes fingerprinting and finding supporting documentation to prove one's identity.

Using Census data, the Justice Department argued that the law creates an undue hardship on Hispanic populations that don't have the means to get a vehicle, live extremely far from a driver's license office or can't make it during the offices' limited operating hours.

Upon a federal court order, Texas recently changed its March 1 primary date to May 29 after a months-long fight over redistricting. 

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