Two weeks ago, the Justice Department asked some questions about Texas’ voter ID law as a condition for preclearance. The Secretary of State has now given some answers, though they may not be what DOJ was looking for.
Under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the Department of Justice or the federal courts reserve the right to review laws that affect voter participation before they are implemented. The Department of Justice initially said on Sept. 23 it did not receive adequate information in the state’s application for preclearance to determine if the proposed changes would negatively affect minority groups. The department wanted to know the racial breakdown and counties of residence of the estimated 605,500 registered voters who do not have a state-issued license or ID, and how many of them have Spanish surnames. It requested the same information for registered voters that do have valid IDs.
The state, though, does not collect race information from voters. So the Secretary of State instead submitted to the Department of Justice a list of all the Hispanic surnames in Texas, as recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau. It offered to check that list against the list of registered voters to determine how many voters have Hispanic names. The DOJ refused to comment when asked last week if the state’s inability to provide the racial breakdown as requested would delay or even prevent the preclearance request.
The Secretary of State also gave the Department of Justice a spreadsheet showing how many registered voters reside in each county as of September 16. It shows how many voters did not provide an ID when they registered to vote, how many voters did not provide an ID but whose records matched an ID record in the DPS database (which means they have been issued an ID) and those who did not provide an ID and could not be matched with a DPS record.
It seems to me that if the state can’t provide this information, then the state cannot say with any real degree of certainty that the effect of the voter ID law will not be to reduce the ability for minorities to vote, which is the whole point of the Voting Rights Act. And frankly, the Republicans who pushed this needless bill have never cared about that. They may believe that there won’t be any adverse effects, but they have no evidence to back that up. If it turns out they’re wrong in their belief, well, they’re not going to lose any sleep over it. They know who their voters are, and who their voters aren’t and the rest follows from there. All of which is to say that I hope the DOJ gives this law the back of its hand, as it so richly deserves. A statement from the TDP is here.