Federal Judge Cautions Texas on Voter ID Enforcement (1200 News Radio WOAI)


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A federal judge in Corpus Christi this afternoon ruled that the State of Texas has not removed all of the barriers to voting which were included in the state's Voter ID law that was declared unconstitutional by an appeals court.

"The judge ruled that Texas on its own action has changed the language of the court's order in many of its educational materials to the voters," said Danielle Lang, Voting Rights Counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, one of the private advocacy groups which, along with the US Department  of Justice, accused Texas of violating the terms of a settlement the state agreed to last month.

"She ruled the state explained the agreement in a way that made it seem that voters who do not currently possess state approved IDs were only allowed to use other forms of identification if they could not possibly obtain an approved photo ID.  In reality, the rule is whether you have a 'reasonable impediment' to obtaining the ID and those are two very different things."

Individuals who say they had a reasonable impediment to obtaining one of the types of photo identification accepted by the state, like a driver's license or a passport, can then confirm their identity another way, like with a utility bill or a pay stub, and be allowed to cast a ballot. 

The Appeals Court sent the issue back to U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos to set in place the rules that Texas can use in conducting the November election.  

Among the rules she set out at the August 10th hearing was that voters who claim to have had a 'reasonable impediment' to obtaining a state approved identification can declare that and be allowed to vote.  

The U.S. Justice Department requested today's hearing, saying the state has 'varied' from Ramos' ruling in the materials it presented to voters.

Lang said the state failed to explain that a 'reasonable impediment,' means that it is 'reasonably difficult' to obtain the identification, leading many to believe that it had to be 'impossible' to obtain the documents.  She said some state officials had even hinted that voters could be prosecuted for perjury for misstating the difficulty they would face in getting an acceptable identification.   

Lang said Ramos did not rule on that particular issue, but 'did say in open court that 'I thought we were supposed to be making voting easier for people, and these types of statements demonstrated a lack of interest in making sure people can vote.'

"After the fact, the state changed the agreed on language to make it far more confusing and more onerous to the voters," Lang said.  She said the judge ordered the state to stress in printed materials that the 'reasonable impediment covers all voters and cannot be questioned.'

The Republican majority in the Texas Legislature and the top state officials, also Republicans, have been adamant that requiring all voters to present a photo ID to vote is necessary to prevent voter impersonation and fraud.  The U.S. Justice Department and other civil rights groups argue that voter impersonation is extremely rare, and Voter ID laws are mainly written as part of an attempt to suppress minority votes.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a conservative Republican, has said the state Legislature will approve a new Voter ID law when it meets next year.

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