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Voter ID laws in Texas become subject of turmoil

Citizens voting at a station for the Nov. 4 election. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

By BILL ZAN
Staff Writer

On October 9, 2014, a federal judge struck down Texas’s voter ID law because as many as 600,000 (4.5%) of the state’s registered voters lack permissible forms of ID.

In 2011, the Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 14, a voter ID law that requires first-time voters and voters without voter registration certificates to show an approved form of government-issued photo ID at the voting station. Student IDs do not qualify as approved ID. Texas’s voter registration law happens to be the strictest in the country, with the most stringent regulations on acceptable photo identification and a lack of accommodation for the poor and elderly.

Although the law was struck down in October, the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals allowed it to remain in place for the impending November general election, as poll workers were already trained to enforce the voter ID law. Three justices—Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan—dissented. Ginsberg noted that the costs associated with the law are significant; he likened the voter ID law to poll taxes. The spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general’s office, Lauren Bean, was more positive about the decision and stated that, “The state will continue to defend the voter ID law and remains confident that the district court’s misguided ruling will be overturned on the merits. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter ID laws are a legal and sensible way to protect the integrity of elections.”

19.11% of registered Texas voters voted during this year’s early-voting period, down from 20.76% in the last midterm election year of 2010. However, many dominantly Hispanic communities had nearly the same voter turnout, such as Cameron County, while Texas’s general election turnout was historically slow. Whether or not the voter ID laws had a significant impact on the general election is not yet clear. Renowned statistician Nate Silver wrote that voter ID laws caused turnout to decrease “by about two percent as a share of the registered voter population.”

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