Alberto Gonzales: Protecting the Latino Vote

Recently, Texas passed a law requiring qualified residents to present photo identification when they vote.  Under the federal Voting Rights Act, the Texas law cannot go into effect until approved by either the Justice Department or a three-judge panel in the District of Columbia.  Last week, the Justice Department announced it was objecting to the Texas law based on information provided by the State that Hispanic voters were 46.5 percent to 120 percent more likely to lack photo identification than non-Hispanics.  The Texas law now heads to the courts where Texas will have to prove that its new election law does not have a disproportionate adverse impact on Hispanic voting rights.

Our right to vote is fundamental to citizenship and must be defended.  Likewise, protecting the integrity of our elections from fraud and abuse is a compelling government purpose.  For this reason, I support common-sense, effective requirements that qualified residents present an approved government issued photo ID to prove who they claim to be when they intend to cast a ballot.

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Most state residents have some form of state-issued photo identification.  In a post-911 world, it is virtually impossible to travel, to enter certain buildings and various facilities, or even to make certain purchases without proper identification.  Some eligible Hispanics may find it inconvenient to get a photo ID.  Others may be intimidated interacting with government authorities because of differences in culture and language.  Still others may not see the political process as having relevance in their lives and are not motivated to vote or obtain a photo ID.  Arguably, however, photo identification is indispensable in today’s modern society and I am surprised at the large number of eligible Hispanics that the Justice Department estimates might not be able to vote because they have no state-issued photo ID.

I condemn any attempt to intentionally discriminate or intimidate eligible Hispanics from voting based on their race or for any reason.  However, so long as legislation or regulations do not have a discriminatory effect or purpose on the basis of race, I support efforts to protect the sanctity of the ballot.  On balance, any inconvenience is outweighed by easier access to benefits and services, and from the reassurance of knowing that votes are not compromised by fraud or abuse.

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As Texas Secretary of State, and the state’s chief elections officer, I supported the elimination of unnecessary barriers to voting in order to encourage greater voter turnout.  It is my hope, as a Hispanic American, to see more eligible Hispanics participate in the political process by voting.  It is the one right that places all eligible Americans on equal footing; where Hispanics have the same power as anyone to shape the future of our country.

Alberto R. Gonzales is the former United States Attorney General and the former Counsel to President George W. Bush.  He is currently the Doyle Rogers Distinguished Chair of Law at Belmont University, Of Counsel at the Nashville law firm of Waller Lansden, and a regular columnist for Fox News Latino.