Obama administration blocks Texas voter ID law

WASHINGTON Mon Mar 12, 2012 4:11pm EDT

1 of 2. U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a news conference in the White House Briefing Room in Washington, March 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Monday blocked a new law in Texas requiring voters to show photo identification before they can cast a ballot, citing a concern that it could harm Hispanic voters who lacked such documents.

The law, which was approved in May 2011, required voters to show government-issued photo identification, such as a driver's license, military identification card, birth certificate with a photo, current U.S. passport, or concealed handgun permit.

The Justice Department said that data from Texas showed that almost 11 percent of Hispanic voters, or more than 300,000, did not have a driver's license or state-issued identification card, and that plans to mitigate those concerns were incomplete.

"Hispanic registered voters are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic registered voters to lack such identification," Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the department's civil rights division, said in a letter outlining the objection to the Texas director of elections.

Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry criticized the decision, saying he was obligated to ensure the integrity of elections.

"The DOJ has no valid reason for rejecting this important law, which requires nothing more extensive than the type of photo identification necessary to receive a library card or board an airplane," he said in a statement.

It was the second state voter identification law blocked by the Obama administration, which earlier prevented a strict new law in South Carolina from taking effect. South Carolina then sued in federal court seeking approval of its law.

Under the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, certain states like Texas must seek approval from the Justice Department or the federal courts for changes made to state voting laws and boundaries for voting districts.

The Obama administration has already challenged the state's attempt to re-draw congressional districts and that fight is before the courts. Texas in January also sued to get approval for its voter identification law.

Several Republican-governed states, including Texas, Kansas and Wisconsin, have adopted stricter new voter identification laws, arguing they were needed to prevent ballot box fraud. A judge in Wisconsin on Monday issued an injunction against that state's law.

Some civil rights groups have said the new laws threatened to suppress minority voters. Democrats have also said they were aimed at squeezing out university students from the polling booths and seniors who tended to vote for Democrats.

"Photo identification requirements for voters drastically affect the electoral participation of the poor, the elderly, and the transient, which means those who need their government's ear most will be the last to be heard," said Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, a Texas state Democratic lawmaker.

The Justice Department said that potential voters in Texas would require two other identification documents to get a certificate allowing them to vote, which could lead to them paying high fees for copies of legal documents such as birth certificates.

Additionally, nearly one-third of the counties in the state do not have offices where potential voters can obtain a driver's license or state identification card and some residents live more than 100 miles away, the Justice Department said.

Efforts to educate voters about the new identification requirements were also incomplete and the state did not submit evidence of voter impersonation not already addressed under existing state laws, the administration said.

"The state has failed to demonstrate why it could not meet its stated goals of ensuring electoral integrity and deterring ineligible voters from voting in a manner that would have voided this retrogressive effect," Perez said.

Republicans said that the Obama administration's decision to oppose Texas' voter identification law smacked of politics ahead of the 2012 congressional and presidential elections.

"Today's decision reeks of politics and appears to be an effort by the Department of Justice to carry water for the President's reelection campaign," said U.S. Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican.

The Texas lawsuit for approval of the voter identification law is: State of Texas v. Holder in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 12-cv-128.

(Editing by Eric Walsh and Paul Simao)

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Comments (102)
todtown wrote:
I vote Democrat and I am generally an Obama supporter. However, I can not get on board with the president’s opinion on this one. This country requires very little of those who choose to live here. But there has to be some point where you expect people to step up to the plate. I don’t think it’s asking too much for people to demonstrate their eagerness to participate in the political process by acquiring a state ID card that is generally available to all US citizens already. I was born here and I’ve had to show my ID in every election where I have voted. So if 11% of Hispanic voters can’t be bothered to spend a day at the DPS to get their ID card than maybe they shouldn’t vote. I don’t think that is a racist or bigoted view point.

Mar 12, 2012 12:32pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
genius_77 wrote:
I’m not certain why this is an issue. I have to have a valid picture ID to board an airplane, cash a check, buy almost anything with a credit card, or buy beer. In this day and age, it is simply prudent to verify an individuals identity. If a voter does not have adequate ID, how did they register. I am not unsympathetic to the situation of hispanics, but this is a phony issue. If a citizen is a legal registered voter, there are options regarding acceptable ID, if there are other issues involved, then they need to be addressed, hispanic, immigrant, non-english speaking or not.

Mar 12, 2012 12:32pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
cogwheel wrote:
You can’t be an Obama supporter. You sound too logical.

Mar 12, 2012 12:51pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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