Constant controversy and mounting court loses mean Voting Rights Act provisions could be returning. Jim Malewitz and Alexa Ura writing in the Texas Tribune pointed out the seriousness of the situation. Take a look at an excerpt:
Six years later, a barrage of federal court rulings that the 2011 Legislature intentionally discriminated against people of color has forced Texas leaders to confront the possibility that they strayed too far in meddling with elections — and put the state at risk of once again having the federal government monitor its election laws. The cases could answer nationwide questions about the strength of the U.S. Voting Rights Act, just four years after part of it was gutted.
Also from the Texas Tribune article:
The court rulings, if they withstand appeals, could reinsert the federal government into crafting Texas election laws. For decades under the Voting Rights Act, Texas was on a list of states and localities needing the federal government’s permission to change their election laws, a safeguard for minority voting rights called preclearance. The U.S. Supreme Court wiped clean the list in 2013 and lifted federal oversight for Texas and other jurisdictions, noting that conditions for minority voters had “dramatically improved.”
Confusion created by hastily drawn up voter ID laws have even prevented votes from being tallied. A new article by Jeremy Wallace of the Houston Chronicle had the story:
Hundreds were delayed from voting and others nearly turned away entirely during the presidential election because of confusion over the status Texas voter ID laws, a new report from a voting rights advocacy group shows. It’s just one of numerous problems Texas voters — particularly minority groups — faced during the 2016 election cycle, the report from the Texas Civil Rights Project detailed on Thursday.
“Unfortunately, throughout the state, voters faced numerous obstacles that complicated the process,” said Beth Stevens, voting rights director at the Texas Civil Rights Project which put out the report on Thursday. “Through our Election Protection Coalition, we heard directly from thousands of voters about the barriers they faced in our electoral system.”
The first of its kind Texas-based report on voter issues was limited in scope to just over 4,000 incidents that we logged. But Stevens said it’s safe to assume there are many more Texans who experienced similar obstacles in voting that simply did not know who to turn to.
See more on the subject at DC’s Voter ID archive of articles. A recent article on DC, “DMV Hours Slashed At Offices Essential to Obtain Texas Voter ID” had more on recent Texas voter laws and their problems. The new hours in particular seem to reflect at minimum a disregard for residents to have easy access to obtain their voter IDs. Election expert Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog recently posted, in a segment he titled, “As Texas Defends Its Voter ID Law, It Cuts Hours for Motor Vehicle Dep’t (Essential for Voters to Get IDs)” that he expects “this news will make it into a filing before Judge Ramos in the voter id litigation”. Here is an excerpt from the Houston Chronicle article that broke the story:
Despite a two-year budget of $2.4 billion, the Texas Department of Public Safety, with little notice, has reduced office hours at 11 of the state’s busiest driver’s license offices and plans to lay off more than 100 full-time employees to deal with a $21 million funding crunch. The statewide police agency’s primary function is to patrol state highways and issue driver’s licenses, but in recent years has spent hundreds of millions on security operations along the 1,200-mile border with Mexico.
The effects of the reduced driver’s license office hours were apparent on Monday morning, where nearly 200 customers formed a long, snaking line outside the large DPS facility at 12220 South Gessner. On June 5, the DPS abruptly scaled back operating hours from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the large centers. The offices are still open after 5 p.m. on Tuesdays.
Only recently Texas has drawn condemnation leading to a different Texas voter ID controversy over protecting the vote. The Justice Department under the leadership of election-protecting Attorney General Eric Holder lead new lawsuit against Texas to prevent its new onerous voter ID requirements from disqualifying huge numbers of minority and poor voters. Ballot Access News, written by Richard Winger, had the latest news in U.S. Government Files New Lawsuit to Invalidate Texas Government Photo-ID Law. Take a look:
On August 22, the United States filed a lawsuit in federal court in Corpus Christi, alleging that the Texas government photo-ID law passed in 2011 (and not yet implemented) violates Section Two of the Voting Rights Act, and the 14th and 15th amendments. The case is U.S.A. v State of Texas, 2:13cv263. It will go to a three-judge court. Here is the Complaint. The Complaint alleges that some Texas residents who don’t have the needed ID would be forced to make a round trip of up to 200 miles to obtain such an ID. The Complaint also points out that some of the offices that issue state ID’s are not open in the evening or on weekends, so that some applicants would need to miss work in order to obtain Texas Voter ID.
The 2011 law had not been implemented because neither the Justice Department, nor another federal court, pre-cleared the law. Now that the preclearance portion of the Voting Rights Act is effectively no longer workable, the Justice Department is using Section 2 of the Act. Section 2 applies to the entire nation and does not permit any state to pass a law that injures the voting rights of racial and ethnic minorities. Thanks to Rick Hasen for the link.
According to new information from the New York Times, the move by the Justice Department and Eric Holder will be facing some unprecedented barriers to their efforts in protecting voters thanks to the Supreme Court’s dismantling of the Voting Rights Act only months ago.
The Justice Department said it would file paperwork to become a co-plaintiff in an existing lawsuit brought by civil rights groups and Texas lawmakers against a Texas redistricting plan. Separately, the department said, it filed a new lawsuit over a state law requiring voters to show photo identification. In both cases, the administration is asking federal judges to rule that Texas has discriminated against voters who are members of a minority group, and to reimpose on Texas a requirement that it seek “pre-clearance” from the federal government before making any changes to election rules. In June, the Supreme Court removed the requirement by striking down part of the Voting Rights Act.
Holder was not being subtle in his quest for better voting methods either. “We will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights,” Mr. Holder added: “We will keep fighting aggressively to prevent voter disenfranchisement.” In the Justice Department complaint there was more interesting information on the Texas law and state of elections:
The Attorney General files this action pursuant to Sections 2 and 12(d) of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973 & 1973j(d), to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. According to the 2010 Census, Texas had a total population of 25,145,561, with a Hispanic population of 9,460,921 (37.6%) and a non-Hispanic black population of 2,975,739 (11.8%). There is no driver license office in scores of Texas counties, and driver license offices in dozens of additional counties are open only one or two days a week. Each of the documents needed to procure an EIC (state ID) costs money to obtain. A copy of a certified birth certificate from the Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics—the least expensive option for those born in Texas—is $22. It costs $345 to obtain a copy of U.S. citizenship or naturalization papers.