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Court Rules That Texas Voter ID Law Violates the Voting Rights Act

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The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday that Texas’s voter identification law does not comply with the Voting Rights Act.

Senate Bill 14, signed into law by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, stipulates the types of photo identification election officials can and cannot accept at the polls. One of nine states requiring “strict photo ID," Texas’s law is viewed as the nation’s strictest and the state’s list of acceptable identification forms is the shortest.

Texas faced much scrutiny for its voter ID law and has defended challenges to the law by the U.S. Department of Justice, minority groups and voting rights advocates. The case centers around whether the Texas law discriminates against Hispanic and African-American voters.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told the Texas Tribune, “It is imperative that the State government safeguards our elections and ensures the integrity of our democratic process. Preventing voter fraud is essential to accurately reflecting the will of Texas voters during elections.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott supports the law, saying it helps to prevent voter fraud at the ballot box. However, opponents argue that the voter ID law was intended to make it harder for minorities to vote, weakening their electoral power.

Experts testified that 600,000 Texans lack such identification, though “election identification certificates” can be obtained free of charge—if you have a birth certificate, according to the Tribune. The problem is that for many people, it's not that easy to get a birth certificate if yours was lost, or if you never got one in the first place.

The 5th Circuit Court’s ruling states, “The district court found that multiple Plaintiffs were turned away when they attempted to vote, and some of those Plaintiffs were not offered provisional ballots to attempt to resolve the issue."

Seven of the court’s 15 judges back the decision in full. Two additional judges back most of the decision. The rest dissented, leaving the court without a majority decision. Still, though, the ruling was a blow against the law—Texas now has to find more ways to help people who don't have identification get one. The New York Times reports that the court gave an example of using voter registration cards as identification. This would eliminate the need for voters to go through the difficult, costly process of obtaining a driver's license or birth certificate—and hopefully also eliminating the discriminatory effect of the law.

Now the case will go back to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. According to Bloomberg, that court is going to look into the question of whether the voter ID law was created with the intent to stop minorities from voting—If they find that legislators were acting with discriminatory intent, the law may have to be changed even more.

Due to the election coming up, it's likely that a short-term remedy will be enacted with a long-term solution reached later that will allow for greater access to acceptable identification.


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