Thursday, August 30, 2012

U.S. Federal Court Motivated by Partisan Politics?

Texas state government building
The recent decision by a U.S Federal District Court against the Texas Voter Identification Law appears to be motivated by partisan politics.

The Texas Law (Bill 44) states that "voters who show up at the polls to identify themselves with one of five forms of ID, including a driver’s license, a United States passport or a state-issued license to carry a concealed handgun. Those lacking one of the five types of identification must obtain an election identification certificate, a government-issued card similar to a driver’s license."

Yet, the U.S. Court argues that Bill 44 would hurt turnout among minority voters (disenfranchisement) and be "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor". "Prospective voters would need to travel to a state Department of Public Safety office to get an election ID card, and, although the card is free, they would have to verify their identity to obtain one, in some cases paying $22 to order a certified copy of their birth certificate." Moreover, in the judges decision (below) says that "while a 200 to 250 mile trip to and from a D.P.S. office would be a heavy burden for any prospective voter, such a journey would be especially daunting for the working poor."

The flaw in this decision is that Texas voters have the option of getting one of five forms of identification in order to vote. The U.S. Court decision makes it seem that only one form of voter identification (i.e. state election identification certificate) is required to vote.

Voter identification is integral to preventing election fraud. The decision is made by a federal court which is connected to the Obama Administration through the United States Attorney General. The Obama Administration argues that it is a burden on voters to produce identification to vote, and therefore, they should not be required to produce identification. In Canada, for example, producing identification prior to voting is simply the norm based on the common sense understanding that voters need to be identified prior to voting to prevent fraud and mistakes such as voters voting at the incorrect polling station.

US District Court Decision on Texas Bill 44


Commentary:

Court Blocks Texas Voter ID Law, Citing Racial Impact
By CHARLIE SAVAGE and MANNY FERNANDEZ (NY Times)

WASHINGTON – A federal court on Thursday struck down a Texas law that would have required voters to show government-issued photo identification before casting their ballots in November, ruling that the law would hurt turnout among minority voters and impose “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor” by charging those voters who lack proper documentation fees to obtain election ID cards.

The three-judge panel in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia called Texas’ voter-identification law the most stringent of its kind in the country, though Gov. Rick Perry and the state’s attorney general vowed to appeal the decision to the United States Supreme Court. The judges’ ruling came just two days after another three-judge panel in the same court found that the Texas Legislature had intentionally discriminated against minority voters in drawing up new political maps for Congressional and legislative districts, citing the same section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Known as Senate Bill 14, the state’s voter-identification law requires voters who show up at the polls to identify themselves with one of five forms of ID, including a driver’s license, a United States passport or a state-issued license to carry a concealed handgun. Those lacking one of the five types of identification must obtain a so-called election identification certificate, a government-issued card similar to a driver’s license. Prospective voters would need to travel to a state Department of Public Safety office to get an election ID card, and, although the card is free, they would have to verify their identity to obtain one, in some cases paying $22 to order a certified copy of their birth certificate.

In its unanimous 56-page ruling, the federal judges found that the fees and the cost of traveling for those voters lacking one of the five forms of ID disproportionately affected the poor and minorities. “Moreover, while a 200 to 250 mile trip to and from a D.P.S. office would be a heavy burden for any prospective voter, such a journey would be especially daunting for the working poor,” the decision read, referring to the fact that dozens of counties in Texas do not have a public safety office.

Mr. Perry and other Texas Republicans had argued that voter identification laws were constitutional methods of preventing voter fraud at the ballot box, and they believed the courts could not legally consider factors like poverty when determining whether a law complies with the Voting Rights Act.

After the court’s decision, Mr. Perry on Thursday sharply criticized the federal judges and the Obama administration. In July, United States Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told the N.A.A.C.P. that the Texas law’s requirements amounted to a poll tax.

“Chalk up another victory for fraud,” Mr. Perry said in a statement. “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.”

Mr. Holder, who has been an outspoken critic of the spate of newly imposed restrictions on voting, praised the ruling. “The court’s decision today and the decision earlier this week on the Texas redistricting plans not only reaffirm — but help protect — the vital role the Voting Rights Act plays in our society to ensure that every American has the right to vote and to have that vote counted,” he said in a statement.

The wave of voter ID laws enacted by Republican-led state governments in recent years has led to a polarizing debate.

Supporters – mostly conservatives – argue that such restrictions are necessary to prevent fraud. While there is no evidence of significance levels of voter impersonation – the sort of fraud that would be addressed by ID requirements – they argue that it is just going undetected. But critics – mostly liberals – say voter impersonation fraud is rare and contend that the restrictions are a veiled effort to suppress turnout by legitimate voters who are less likely to have a photo ID card and who tend to support Democrats, like students, the indigent and minorities.

While opponents of voter ID laws celebrated Thursday’s ruling as a broad victory for their cause, the ruling was narrowly focused on the Texas law and emphasized that it should not be read as implying that all voter ID laws should be blocked by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The ruling cited with approval the Justice Department’s decision to allow Georgia to implement a less restrictive version of such a measure, saying the difference between the two state laws was “stark.”

Mr. Perry signed the voter identification bill into law last May, but it had not yet taken effect, because Texas and other states with a history of racial discrimination cannot make any changes to their voting procedures without first receiving so-called preclearance from either the United States attorney general or the federal court in Washington. Texas sought approval from Mr. Holder, who denied granting preclearance in March, in part because the state’s data showed that Hispanic voters were more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic voters to lack a government-issued driver’s license or identification card.

Texas filed a lawsuit asking the court to grant preclearance and allow it to enforce the new law, and there was a trial before the three-judge panel in July.

The two federal rulings this week were bittersweet victories for State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democrat from San Antonio who testified at the voter ID trial in July and is chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, one of the groups that sued the state over redistricting.

“Texas has sort of aired its dirty laundry across a national stage for the last two days, and it’s a history that we are not very proud of,” Mr. Fischer said. “This is an opportunity for minorities to recognize that there is a political party in this state that has a decision to make, when it comes to embracing and making them an inclusive part of their party structure. Rather than be inclusive, I think the Republican Party has decided to make them the targets.”


Question for Readers: Is it unreasonable to expect voters without 5 main pieces of identification to get either one of the main identifications or a state issued certificate to vote?

4 comments:

  1. This issue sounds very complex, but I think Texas should be able to provide this identification through a special mailing service. Would this help the cause?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mail in identification forms sounds like a good idea; the U.S. federal electoral system already has a national mail voter registration process for most states.

      Mail in form process would eliminate the cost of commuting to get the identification certificate.

      Surely, the cost of stamps is not too burdensome on poor people; though the forms could come with postage free envelopes. Any problems with filling out the forms could be dealt with over the phone.

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    2. The cost of postage is the least of our worries. What worries me is the administrative burden.

      In Texas, any attempt to expand the number of government employees is met with resistance. There is always a backlash about "spiraling costs" of government administration. (Even if those costs are an investment in a fairer democratic process).

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    3. The FDA has no major issue with Texas Bill 44. However, mail in form process for identification certificates would eliminate the cost issue of commute.

      Unless there is a severe recession, how can a fairer democratic process, within reasonable cost, be ignored?

      Guess it comes down to priorities. There are some people in western societies who have a disdain for a peoples democracy.

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Thank you for sharing your perspective.