Voter ID bill disenfranchises
After lengthy consideration, the US Department of Justice has wisely denied pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act to Texas’ planned voter ID legislation.
The 1964 act requires that counties or states with a history of discriminating against minorities in their voting laws — that includes Texas — obtain pre-clearance from the DOJ before their voting laws can be changed. The burden lies upon the states to prove that the proposed law does not have a discriminatory effect on voters.
As this column has noted in the past, Texas Senate Bill 14 fails to meet that requirement. The DOJ decided that the law would disenfranchise Hispanic voters. The proposed bill would oblige voters to show a photo ID in order to cast a ballot. Previously acceptable documents such as a student ID, birth certificate or voter registration card would no longer be adequate. According to the data that Texas itself provided to the DOJ; Hispanic registered voters are at least 49 percent less likely — and potentially as much as 120 percent less likely — to possess a qualifying ID. Students and the elderly are also statistically less likely to possess the required identification.
Proponents of the legislation say that voter fraud is a serious enough issue that it justifies the discriminatory effects of voter ID laws. However, the only type of voter fraud that could be potentially prevented with stricter ID requirements — impersonating another voter — is so rare that one is more likely to be struck by lightning, according to studies by the NYU School of Law. From 2002 to 2005, there were only 17 convictions for voter impersonation nationwide.
If the Texas legislature is so concerned with election fraud, their efforts would be far better spent ensuring the integrity of voting machines or counting methods, which are much more susceptible to acts of fraud, and wholly unrelated to the issue of photo IDs.
The Voting Rights Act does not simply require that proposed laws have no discriminatory intent, but requires that they have no discriminatory effect as a byproduct of their implementation. The data submitted to the DOJ clearly shows that Senate Bill 14 would have a discriminatory effect on a large number Hispanic registered voters.
Bills like this are the reason pre-clearance is required by the Voting Rights Act in the first place, and makes it clear why the Act was recently renewed. Senate Bill 14 is attempting to stop an extraordinarily rare method of voter fraud by enacting legislation that could disenfranchise more than 600,000 registered voters — and that’s according to the state’s own data. In the years following the passage of the 15th Amendment, many southern states seeking to disenfranchise African-American voters passed laws requiring voters to pay a large poll tax in order to vote. Other states required literacy tests, or forbade an individual from voting if their grandfather had not been able to vote. Even the use of violence and physical intimidation to dissuade potential voters was not uncommon. In 1964, the Voting Rights Act outlawed these practices and required that any changes to voting laws in the states that had used such practices be subject to pre-clearance.
Voting is a constitutional right, and lies at the very core of our democracy. With our country’s woefully low voter turnout, we should be trying to get more voters to the polls, not pushing them away with red tape. Requiring photo ID will keep many from the polls, and will do essentially nothing to prevent voter fraud.
The Department of Justice was right to reject this voter ID bill. Disenfranchising more than 600,000 Texas voters to prevent unlikely and statistically insignificant fraud is just not worth it.
Emily Brooks is an economics senior and may be reached at [email protected]