Two Victories, One Day: TX and MI Voting Rights
Texas and Wisconsin laws requiring voters to show ID at the polls were struck down yesterday in decisions that have major implications for voting rights across the country.
Although the decisions were issued under different circumstances and by different bodies -- the Justice Department ruled that the Texas law violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, while a Wisconsin judge declared that its state’s law was unconstitutional -- their shared message is clear: Voter ID laws unfairly and unjustly burden voters.
After a Justice Department investigation concluded that the state had failed to prove its voter ID law would not discriminate against Hispanic voters, Texas joined the ranks of South Carolina, whose voter ID law was struck down by the DOJ in December. Due to a history of discriminatory practices, Texas is one of 16 states or districts of states whose voting and elections laws must be approved by the Justice Department. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires the Justice Department to “pre-clear” new election laws in covered states, counties, and districts to ensure the new rules do not discriminate based on race, color, or language. In a letter to Texas officials explaining its decision, the Justice Department wrote, “Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card.” And that disparity is significant: Hispanic registered voters in Texas are 46.5 to 120 percent more likely to lack the required identification than non-Hispanic voters.
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, a judge declared that the state’s voter ID measure signed into law by Governor Scott Walker last May was unconstitutional and issued a permanent injunction blocking its implementation. The Wisconsin state constitution guarantees every citizen 18 years of age or older (barring certain convicted felons) the right to vote. In his decision Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess found that requiring voters to present ID would be an added qualification that one must posses in order to vote, violating the state’s voting rights as determined by the constitution. Significantly, Neiss also addressed Governor Walker and other legislators’ claims that voter ID laws are needed to combat voter fraud: "Without question, where it exists, voter fraud corrupts elections and undermines our form of government. The legislature and governor may certainly take aggressive action to prevent its occurrence,” he wrote in his decision. “But voter fraud is no more poisonous to our democracy than voter suppression. Indeed, they are two heads on the monster."
He’s right: The notion of widespread voter fraud occurring in state or federal elections is a myth. Instead, in attempting to fix a problem that does not exist, these kinds of laws discourage or block eligible citizens, especially poor, elderly, and minority voters, from casting their votes. Yesterday’s coinciding decisions in Texas and Wisconsin give new momentum to those citizens and advocacy groups calling for states to overturn existing voter ID laws or prevent similar new laws from being enacted.
Will you have to show an ID at the polls in November? Is your state considering such a law? Speak up and let your officials know that you oppose voter ID and other voter suppression measures in your state. Use this map for more information on the status of your states’ voting laws.
Image courtesy of Talking Points Memo.