Voter ID laws

Ruling shows Texas requirement went too far

There are efforts across the country to push the envelope in what requirements voters face before being allowed to cast a ballot in the upcoming election. The laws range in their scope, but some tread too far in limiting access for certain demographics — namely minority and lower-income voters, or both. This was the case in Texas, whose strict voter ID law was struck down this week in federal district court.

The measure in question, Senate Bill 14, outlined a narrow list of identification that voters would be required to produce before casting their ballots. While on its surface, the notion of requiring some identification is not particularly onerous, the types allowed by the Texas law were likely to disproportionately disenfranchise minority and/or low-income voters who might lack the means of traveling the sometimes far distances across Texas to obtain the identification, let alone the funds to produce the documents required for the identification itself. As such, the law ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act, according to the three-judge panel in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

When poor and minority voters are made to overcome hurdles that are insurmountably high, that is de facto disenfranchisement — a poll tax one degree removed. For those with resources, obtaining a state-approved identification card is not overly burdensome. But those who lack the transportation and money that it would take to get a card will be duly chilled by the requirement. Their input into how their lives are shaped by policy simply will not be taken into account — in this election and likely beyond.

The Texas law went too far, and the judges who issued the unanimous ruling minced no words in saying so. “Simply put, many Hispanics and African Americans who voted in the last election will, because of the burdens imposed by SB 14, likely be unable to vote in the next election. That is retrogression,” the opinion said.

Further, the state had opportunities to avoid this fate: There were several amendments offered to the measure that would have softened it, all of which were rejected by the Texas Legislature. The result is that minorities and poor in Texas were far less likely to be able to meet the requirements of SB 14 than other voters. That these demographics are also more likely to vote for Democrats was not lost on the law’s proponents. Nor is it the first time such a connection has been made.

Texas’ law is one of many similar measures appearing across the country, but in going as far as it did, crossed the line drawn by the Voting Rights Act. The state’s argument that its measure was no different from those in Georgia and Indiana did not hold sway with the court, primarily because of the overstepping Texas did in targeting both minorities and the poor. The slope is slippery, to be sure.

Texas will likely appeal the ruling, which would place it in the Supreme Court’s hands to decide, should the justices grant the matter certiori. It certainly deserves a final decision, though that made by the D.C. panel is sufficiently strong and for all the right reasons.