AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice has asked a federal judge to halt further action against Texas for its voter identification law, saying a measure enacted last month by the Republican-controlled legislature fixed elements ruled discriminatory.
In a brief filed on Wednesday at the U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi, the Justice Department said the revised law “removes any ‘discriminatory effect’ or intent the Court found ... and advances Texas’s legitimate ‘policy objectives’ in adopting a voter ID law.”
The state’s original law in 2011 was considered one of the nation’s strictest such measures and was subject to years of court challenges under the administration of former Democratic President Barack Obama. The law’s opponents said it could exclude up to 600,000 voters.
Critics had said the Texas law and similar statutes enacted in other Republican-governed states were tailored to make it harder for minorities, including black and Hispanic voters who are less likely to have the authorized IDs and tend to favor Democrats, to cast ballots.
Backers of the laws have said they are necessary to prevent voter fraud.
Facing pressure after years of court losses, Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott in June signed the measure known as Senate Bill 5 that relaxed the photo identification requirements for voting.
Both the previous law and SB 5 list authorized photo IDs needed for voting to include a driver’s license, U.S. military ID, a U.S. passport and a Texas concealed handgun license.
The new law allows people who cannot produce an authorized photo ID to show other documentation such as a utility bill or bank statement and sign an affidavit stating they had a reasonable impediment in presenting an authorized ID.
Critics contend the new law can still be used to intimidate voters, who could face several years in prison if they are found to have lied in filling out affidavits.
“The Department of Justice has completed the conversion from a vote protector to a vote suppressor,” said Matt Angle, director of the left-leaning Lone Star Project activist group.
Republican President Donald Trump in May created the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to look into voter fraud, provoking anger among U.S. civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers, who called it a voter suppression tactic.
Trump has made unsubstantiated allegations that millions of people voted illegally for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, in November’s election.
Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney