The legal battle over the Texas voter ID law is a fight that just won’t end.
The law was passed by the state’s Republican-led legislature in 2011. It immediately became one of the strictest photo ID laws in the country. And the law has been in and out of courts ever since.
According to civil rights attorney Chad Dunn, the courts ruled that the law is discriminatory.
“There is some considerable evidence that it was adopted with the purpose to prevent certain voters from voting,” Dunn says.
He says judges ruled the Texas law made it harder for minorities to vote. That’s why the state was forced to change the law before the presidential election. As a result, voters without one of the seven photo IDs required by the state now have some wiggle room. They can present alternative forms of ID — like a voter registration card. And Dunn says they just have to sign a document saying they had trouble getting a Texas photo ID.
“And if they have an impediment to getting an ID — a reasonable impediment to getting an ID — they shouldn’t fear at all coming into a polling location and filling out a declaration and casting that full ballot they are entitled to,” Dunn says.
A federal judge ordered the the state to communicate these changes to voters. And that’s where things have hit a snag: The state is accused of using language that doesn’t stress that people without a photo ID can now vote.
From the state’s website: “Voters who cannot obtain one of the seven forms of approved photo ID have additional options at the polls when casting their ballots.”
Cinde Weatherby, who’s with a local chapter of the League of Women Voters, uses simpler phrasing in her voter handouts. She says if voters don’t have an ID, they’ll still be able to vote. And when asked what the big difference here is, she says it’s perspective.
“We are trying to look at it from a positive rather than a negative. I guess that’s the basic answer,” Weatherby says.
The U.S. Justice Department and the plaintiffs in the case say it’s more than just perspective that’s a problem here. There are lot more voters who have trouble getting an ID than voters who can’t get one at all. Ezra Rosenberg, another attorney representing the Texas voters challenging the state’s law, says this could have ramifications come November.
“If people have inaccurate information as to whether they are allowed to vote, they may decide not to vote. That’s why we want to clear this up,” Rosenberg says.
Texas election officials aren’t commenting on this. There’s a hearing set for later this month. While the court figures all this out, groups are frantically trying to spread the word before the state’s voter registration deadline on October 11th.
Texas has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the country. In 2012, less than 50 percent of eligible voters in Texas went to the polls — well below the national average. Cinde Weatherby says that’s why voting rights advocates are working hard to let people know the law is different now.
“A lot of people felt like they weren’t welcome at the polls if they didn’t have one of these ways to vote,” Weatherby says. “Even those people who really tried to get those photo IDs were eliminated from the voting pool.”
State election officials say they plan on unveiling an ad campaign to tell voters what they will need at the polls. But that campaign won’t start until October.