It was deja vu all over again for Republicans and Democrats on Thursday as a federal court tossed out a second GOP-backed law in three days.
This time it was the state’s voter ID law, but again it was Texas Republicans who took one on the chin.
And, as with the state’s redistricting plan that was thrown out Tuesday, the presiding court said Texas lawmakers were erecting barriers to poor and minority voters.
“Viva la Tejas! That’s good news twice,” Longview NAACP chapter President Branden Johnson said. “I’m excited and delighted that they stood up for civil rights again.”
The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., said the voter ID law, which took Republicans three legislative sessions to push through, did not pass constitutional muster.
The ruling almost certainly means the Nov. 6 general election will remain under the old law. Voters must show either a voter registration card or one of several other IDs, including a water bill with a current address, in order to cast ballots.
The voter ID law greatly restricted those options, though it added the Texas concealed handgun ID to the list.
The Gregg County Republican chairman on Thursday reacted similarly to when the previous panel ruled on redistricting.
“Can I just say, ditto?” Keith Rothra asked. “I can’t find a logic in the court’s decision, and I hate to sound repetitive, but it’s dumber than dirt.”
Rothra’s Democratic counterpart said the national wave of state’s passing voter ID laws is contrary to the theory that greater participation promotes democracy.
“You want people to be excited and get involved in the system, but then we go and put all these rules in,” said Gregg County Democratic Chairman Bryce Bagby. “If you want to give the American people more of a say, let the people participate and vote.”
Opponents of the law, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, argued that more than 600,000 Texans could be disenfranchised, most of them poor and minority voters who traditionally vote Democratic.
The court had asked Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott for evidence to the contrary. But in writing the court’s opinion Thursday, Justice David. S. Tatel described Texas’ evidence as “unpersuasive, invalid or both.”
As with Tuesday’s ruling, which was handed down from a different panel of the same D.C. court, Abbott promised to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. He had the backing of Gov. Rick Perry.
“Chalk up another victory for fraud,” the governor wrote in an email sent to media outlets. “Today, federal judges subverted the will of the people of Texas and undermined our effort to ensure fair and accurate elections. The Obama administration’s claim that it’s a burden to present a photo ID to vote simply defies common sense. I will continue to work with Attorney General Abbott to fight for the same right that other states already have to protect their elections.”
Johnson said it was Perry and Republicans who were trying to subvert the will of targeted Texans.
“I think Gregg Abbott should decide to use his energy and all his muster and might in a positive manner as our lead attorney in this state,” Johnson said. “Leave our voting rights alone.”
He added an election year caution for the GOP.
“Those voter ID laws are put in place to alienate blacks and Latinos in the state of Texas, and the people embracing voter ID law ought to be embracing blacks and Latinos,” he said. “It’s not hard for most of us to get an ID card, but you have to think about people who are elderly, in nursing homes. You also have people living in rural areas. Some people have to drive upwards of 100 miles to get to the DPS (office).”
Texas Rep. Bryan Hughes, who backed the legislation, said lawmakers had ensured its constitutionality by making the IDs free if the $22 cost proved a hardship.
“That was a big part of the debate,” said Hughes, R-Mineola. “Obviously, I’m disappointed. There have always been reasonable requirements in place in order to vote.”
Don’t go to the Department of Public Safety for a free voter ID card yet, though.
“Nothing happens,” DPS spokesman Tom Vinger wrote in an email response to questions. “We don’t offer voter ID cards at this time. Authorization would come from the court system.”
Mike Schwartz, co-founder of We The People-Longview, a tea party organization, was almost blasphemous to his no-new-tax party in his support of voter ID.
“I’m willing to pay extra taxes if it supports the structure where people can get a voter ID,” Schwartz said. “It’s a very common sense law, and if the state will provide a free voter ID, what’s really the beef? What’s the argument?”
Hughes’ fellow Republican lawmaker, David Simpson of Longview, noted the 83rd Legislature convening in January has a full plate with education funding, water issues and yet another revenue shortfall.
“I would rather not see us have to go through the redistricting process next year,” Simpson said. “I think it’s important that we have honest elections, and this was a step. It’s certainly not everything we need to do for that. ... I think these are reasonable (laws), and I’m willing to get on down the road.”
A resident’s voter application asks for one of three identification numbers. If a resident has not received any of these, he is still eligible to register to vote but will be required to provide proof of identity.
Acceptable identification includes:
A driver’s license or personal ID card issued by Texas DPS.
A form of ID that contains a photograph and establishes identity
A birth certificate or other document confirming birth that establishes identity
U.S. citizenship papers or U.S. passport
Official mail addressed to a resident by a governmental entity
A copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document that shows a resident’s name and address
“This administration believes it should be easier for eligible citizens to vote, to register and vote. We should not be imposing unnecessary obstacles and barriers to voter participation.”
White House press secretary
“Under the proposed law, many of those without the required voter identification would be forced to travel great distances to get one — and some would have to pay for the documents they might need to do so. The Legislature rejected reasonable efforts to mitigate these burdens.”
U.S. attorney general
“The Supreme Court of the United States has already upheld voter ID laws as a constitutional method of ensuring integrity at the ballot box. Today’s decision is wrong on the law and improperly prevents Texas from implementing the same type of ballot integrity safeguards that are employed by Georgia and Indiana — and were upheld by the Supreme Court. ”
Texas attorney general
“In a matter of two days, the state of Texas has had its dirty laundry aired out across the national stage. This deals with the despicable issues of discrimination, voter suppression, these are things that we’re not proud of.”
Trey Martinez Fischer
Chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Conference