"The department's letter states that Texas did not meet its burden under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of showing that the law will not have a discriminatory effect on minority voters, and therefore the department objects to the Texas voter identification law," said Xochitl Hinojosa, a Justice Department spokeswoman. "According to the state's own data, a Hispanic registered voter is at least 46.5 percent, and potentially 120 percent, more likely than a non-Hispanic registered voter to lack the required identification."
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez wrote in a letter to Keith Ingram, the director of Texas' elections division on Monday:
"As noted above, an applicant for an election identification certificate will have to travel to a driver's license office. This raises three discrete issues. First, according to the most recent American Community Survey three-year estimates, 7.3 percent of Hispanic or Latino households do not have an available vehicle, as compared with only 3.8 percent of non-Hispanic white households that lack an available vehicle. Statistically significant correlations exist between the Hispanic voting-age population percentage of a county, and the percentage of occupied housing units without a vehicle.
Second, in 81 of the state's 254 counties, there are no operational driver's license offices. The disparity in the rates between Hispanics and non-Hispanics with regard to the possession of either a driver's license or personal identification card issued by DPS is particularly stark in counties without driver's license offices. According to the September 2011 data, 10.0 percent of Hispanics in counties without driver's license offices do not have either form of identification, compared to 5.5 percent of non-Hispanics. According to the January 2012 data, that comparison is 14.6 percent of Hispanics in counties without driver's license offices, as compared to 8.8 percent of non-Hispanics. During the legislative hearings, one senator stated that some voters in his district could have to travel up to 176 miles roundtrip in order to reach a driver's license office. The legislature tabled amendments that would have, for example, provided reimbursement to voters who live below the poverty line for travel expenses incurred in applying for the requisite identification."
The bill, Senate Bill 14 by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, was one of Gov. Rick Perry's "emergency items" during the 82nd Legislature and requires voters to present a state-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license, military ID, U.S. passport or concealed handgun license before casting a ballot.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who expected the federal government's rejection, said late last week he plans to forge ahead with the lawsuit he filed last month to have the bill implemented immediately. The Justice Department has until April 9 to respond to the lawsuit.
Abbott has cited the department's rejections of recently passed laws similar to Texas' voter ID law, not to mention that less-than-subtle warning from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who said in Austin in December that the department would place Texas' law under a microscope.
"It [the request] was submitted to them in July, and they kept delaying and delaying and delaying," Abbot said on Thursday. "We saw them reject a similar proposal in South Carolina and we couldn't see them rejecting South Carolina and approving Texas."
The voter ID law "would have trampled on the constitutional right to cast a ballot for hundreds of thousands of Texans, said Texas Democratic Party spokeswoman Rebecca Acua, praising the Justice Department's ruling. "Republicans have wasted enough taxpayer dollars defending this voter suppression legislation."
Below is a timeline of actions and decisions over the past year affecting Texas' voter ID law:
March 23, 2011: SB 14 passes the Texas House of Representatives following debate on more than 60 amendments and seven points of order. The House discussed the bill for about 12 hours.
May 9, 2011: The Texas Senate adopts the voter ID conference committee report, which tweaked some of the amendments approved during the House floor debate.
May 16, 2011: The Texas House approves the committee's report, which removed a provision that would have allowed residences of federally recognized tribal lands to show their tribal IDs to vote. The bill's House sponsor, Patricia Harless, R-Spring, also introduced an "outside the bounds resolution" that included in the bill a provision where free IDs would be made available for the sole purpose of casting a ballot. A provision to exclude people who attest under oath they do not have their photos takes due to religious purposes was also adopted.
July 2011: The Texas Secretary of State's office submits to the U.S. Department of Justice the required request for preclearance. Because of Texas' history of racial discrimination, section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act gives the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal courts the authority to review laws that would affect voter participation. Fifteen other states are subject to the preclearance rule.
August 2011: The National Conference of State Legislators issues a report explaining the differences in Texas' law compared to others recently passed. The report concludes that:
Only six other states, like Texas, have a strict photo requirement: Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Wisconsin, South Carolina and Tennessee. Seven states -- Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan and South Dakota -- ask voters for photo ID, but still allow them to cast a ballot if they don't have a photo ID and can meet other specific criteria. Sixteen other states require voters to show some form of ID, though not necessarily with a photo.
"The law puts Texas in the group with Indiana and Georgia, which I would categorize as fairly strict," Doug Chapin, an elections expert at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, told the Tribune.
September 2011: Arguing the bill unfairly affects minorities and the elderly, a coalition of civil and rights groups writes the Department of Justice urging denial of the preclearance request. In a letter submitted during the public comment period by the Advancement Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Justice Center and the Southwest Workers Union, the groups alleged that instead of actually providing proof the legislation was enacted for non-discriminatory reasons, the state relied simply on its claim that officials did not intend on diluting the voting strength of mi