Texas Voter ID Law Discriminates Against Latinos, Justice Department Says

A controversial law requiring Texas voters to show a photo ID at the polls remains unenforceable because it discriminates against Latinos, the Department of Justice said Monday.

In a letter to the Office of the Texas Secretary of State, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said registered Latino voters are almost twice as likely as non-Latinos not to have a photo identification.

Somewhere between 6.3 and 10.8 percent of registered Latino voters in Texas do not have a state-issued photo ID. The precise figure is not clear because the Texas state government sent the Justice Department two different sets of data about the state’s voters without indicating which was more accurate, the letter says.

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"Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver's license or a personal identification card," Thomas Perez of the Justice Department wrote.

The Texas Secretary of State's Office said in a statement that the two figures, one sent in September 2011 and one in January 2012, were not intended to match.

The Justice Department says requiring those voters without photo ID to obtain one would present a cost of at least $22 for a birth certificate copy.

The Texas legislature did not take measures to provide necessary documents to voters free of charge and the state government has not enacted a campaign to make voters aware of their obligations under the new law, the letter says.

“I cannot conclude that the state has sustained its burden under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” Perez wrote.

Because of its history of discriminatory voting policies, Texas is one of the states required under section five of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to seek approval from the federal government in order to change its electoral laws.

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Texas authorities rejected the Justice Department's assessment and the state government is now in litigation with the Obama Administration over the voter ID law.

“The Dept. of Justice’s decision is extremely disappointing," Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade said Monday in a statement. “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.”

Governor Rick Perry echoed the sentiment.

"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," Perry said in statement. "Their denial is yet another example of the Obama Administration’s continuing and pervasive federal overreach."

Prompted largely by fears that undocumented immigrants will impersonate voters, several state legislatures have debated the unprecedented step of requiring a photo identification to cast a ballot.

In addition to Texas, South Carolina passed a state voter ID law last year, which the Department of Justice also objected to. Like Texas, South Carolina is fighting the decision.

Alabama also passed a voter ID law, but because it does not take effect until 2014, it has yet to be reviewed by the federal government.

Despite the flurry of laws, Monday’s letter from the Justice Department said Texas did not provide evidence that in-person voter fraud posed a significant problem.

Texas has convicted 50 people of election fraud since 2002, according to the state's Attorney General's Office.

An exclusive poll released last week by Fox News Latino found 72.2 percent of likely Latino voters thought requiring a photo identification would deter minorities from voting.

You can reach Roque Planas at roque.planas@foxnewslatino.com or via Twitter: @RoqPlanas.

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