A federal judge in Texas shot down a proposed voter identification law for the fourth time, citing intentional discrimination against minorities, but a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity says previous court decisions and existing federal law are on the side of the Lone Star State.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos prevented Texas from implementing parts of a 2011 voter ID law and completely rejected a reworked law crafted by lawmakers to comply with an earlier defeat at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Ramos says the legislation clearly has the hallmarks of discrimination, both for amending the previous law rather than starting over and for increasing penalties for anyone caught lying as to why they don’t have government-issued photo identification.
But critics of Ramos say her decision is far less complicated than that.
“This judge, an Obama appointee, has shown her bias from the very beginning, when her first opinion said that there was no reason to pass a voter ID law other than to discriminate,” said Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at the Heritage Foundation. He is also a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.
Von Spakovsky says the original Texas law required government-issued photo identification from all voters. He says the amended version offered far more leniency.
“They changed it to say if you show up at a polling place and you don’t have an ID, you’ll still be able to vote if you simply sign a form that says I had a reasonable impediment that kept me from getting a photo ID and you show some document that’s got your name and address on it,” said von Spakovsky.
He says that could include a bank statement or a utility bill and adds there are no barriers in Texas to getting a photo ID or bringing an acceptable alternative to the polls.
“Texas provides a free photo ID to anyone who doesn’t already have one. Second, they’ve even gotten rid of that requirement by saying all you’ve got to show is a document with your name and address on it . It doesn’t cost you anything to bring a utility bill, or a bank statement, or some other government document,” said von Spakovsky.
He also laughs off Ramos for considering tougher penalties for lying on a government form to be discrimination.
“She claims that’s voter intimidation. Again, punishing lying on a voting form is not voter intimidation, yet that’s the claim that she makes,” said von Spakovsky.
Von Spakovsky says Texas has another thing on its side as it prepares to appeal: existing federal law.
“Texas copied a federal requirement. Under federal law in the Help America Vote Act of 2002, anyone who registers by mail, the first time they go vote they have to show some form of ID, and the forms of ID are specifically listed as exactly the same thing,” said von Spakovsky.
“So [Ramos] is basically saying that the same kind of requirement Texas put in, which is identical to a federal requirement – a federal law – that’s been upheld in the courts, that that’s somehow intentional discrimination . I mean that’s just crazy,” said von Spakovsky.
As a result, von Spakovsky fully expects Texas to win its next battle in the appeals court, in part because doing otherwise would be tantamount to ruling against itself.
“I have a hard time believing they’re going to uphold what this judge is saying, also because of the fact that the changes that were made by Texas actually followed a guide or outline that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals itself wrote in its prior opinions,” said von Spakovsky.
A dozen states require some form of government-issued identification. And within those states, von Spakovsky says there is proof that such policies do not discriminate.
“All of the claims that this will keep, for example, minority voters out of the polls we know is not true. States like Georgia and Indiana have had their ID requirements in place for more than a decade. In fact, turnout of African-Americans in Georgia went up after this law. A lot of people think it’s because it improves public confidence in the election process,” said von Spakovsky.
While von Spakovsky admits many opponents of voter ID laws truly believe minorities and the poor are being disenfranchised, he says others just don’t like closer scrutiny of the voting process.
“There are other people who don’t want anything that will make elections more secure. These are people who want to be able to easily steal votes. Texas has a history of voter fraud, including a lot of people who go into poor neighborhoods and purchase and buy votes,” said von Spakovsky.