After Texas enacted highly restrictive voter ID laws for the upcoming general elections, civil rights groups, concerned voters and even the Obama administration assailed the crafters of this policy, describing it as deliberately constructing an obstacle course to prevent minorities and indigents from voting. Indeed, voter ID laws, and the egregious court decisions allowing this policy to stand, will substantially burden minority voters and those who cannot afford to purchase the sources of identification which are necessary to vote in Texas.
At first, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos struck down the state’s voter ID law, comparing it to an unconstitutional poll tax, and prevented the state from implementing it. However, the Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals, which ruled in their favor; although the Court conceded that “individual voter plaintiffs may be harmed by the issuance of this stay,” it reversed the lower court’s ruling and held that the state “will be irreparably harmed” if the injunction remains in place.
On Saturday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an emergency court order in a 6-3 ruling that Texas could enforce its strict voter ID law for this year’s elections.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder described the move as “a major step backward to let stand a law…[that was] designed to discriminate.”
Civil rights groups went even further, arguing that “Today’s decision means hundreds of thousands of eligible voters in Texas will be unable to participate in November’s election because Texas has erected an obstacle course designed to discourage voting,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on Oct. 18.
In a scathing dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg strongly denounced the decision. “The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” Justice Ginsberg said.
This decision is bad news.
Texas’s decision to require ID’s in order to vote will hurt many of those who do not have an ID. According to The Nation, 600,000 to 800,000 current registered voters don’t have the government-issued ID needed to vote. This is not because these individuals are illegal aliens; rather, they lack ID’s for practical reasons, such as not having the time or money to commute to the DMV.
Out of the 254 counties in the state, 81 counties lack DMV’s, according to The Nation. As such, people will be forced to commute long distances in order to obtain an ID, which presents a serious burden to those who are too poor to afford transportation.
Also, to obtain an ID from the DMV, potential voters must pay a fee for documents in order to confirm their identity. Perhaps, one of the most inexpensive options to this is to purchase a birth certificate, which runs for $22. The cost of a physical ID is about $20. For many residents—such as college students, single moms, immigrants, and indigent individuals— these fees are an excessive and non-practical purchase.
What’s even more ridiculous is that a handgun permit is an acceptable form of ID, yet a university ID is not. Provisions like these demonstrate the true nature of the law, which is meant to discourage minority voters; according to The Nation, Hispanics, who often vote Democrat, are 46 to 120 percent more likely than whites to lack an ID. Additionally, it will substantially burden female voters; according to a 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, a third of all women have citizenship documents that are different from their current legal name.
Texas Governor Rick Perry has praised the law, arguing that it will reduce voter fraud. This argument is absolutely ridiculous; according to the News21 database, there has been only one – I repeat, one – conviction for voter identification fraud since the year 2000.
This law affects everyone. The United States Constitution allows all citizens to vote free of discrimination, provided they don’t have any felonies on their record. The prerequisite of having a type of ID that many lack will burden thousands of voters over an issue that is not even a problem. Additionally, Texas is not providing financial assistance to those whom are now forced to drive, physically wait in line and pay DMV costs.
Because of this new law, many potential voters are now intimidated to register to vote in Texas. It is a sort of poll tax and obstacle that is comparable to a literacy test given to Blacks during the Jim Crow age. Making voting difficult discourages people from practicing their constitutional right. And with the low voting turnout in the United States, I cannot fathom why the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with this Texas law.