July 16, 2012
Attorneys for the State of Texas have not been lacking for work recently. Last week, arguments in the Texas voter identification trial wrapped up in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia without a knockout blow for either side.
The U.S. Department of Justice blocked implementation of Texas’ 2011 law, which requires voters present a photo ID at the polls, asserting it unfairly impacts minority voters. In response, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sued the federal government in order to gain pre-clearance for the law and speed up its implementation. Only 16 states in the union are required to obtain this pre-clearance, due to their past behavior.
However, during oral arguments, the DOJ was not able to definitively prove that any voters would actually by disenfranchised by the law. Instead, thousands of the supposedly disenfranchised voters had more problems than just not having proper identification. More than 57,000 were dead and more than 260,000 had left the state. In addition, 290,000 voters did not need an ID because they were over the age of 65 and 450,000 voters were registered in state photo ID records.
Abbott argued that the spectre of voter fraud was enough to allow the law to pass constitutional muster. In other words, that the state has a duty to secure ballot boxes even if there has never been one instance of fraud. In addition, University of Texas professor Daron Shaw presented evidence that 1.9% of white voters, 1.23% of black voters and 0.96% of Hispanic voters would be required to obtain an ID in order to vote. Given the lack of discrepancy in the percentages, the state argued, the law does not favor one group of voters over another, but treats all equally.
Unfortunately, the law does nothing to impact elections in the arena most prone to fraudulent voting, which is mail-in ballots. Voters may still vote without any form of ID through overseas and mail-in ballots, where many believe the elderly’s vote is especially vulnerable to fraudulent behavior.
The district court’s decision will likely be appealed, ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court, no matter the outcome. Two of the panel’s three judges were appointed by Democratic presidents and seemed skeptical of the law from their questioning. Looks like more litigation could be on the horizon.