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DOJ defers again on voter ID

In addition to the interim maps, we got some more good news yesterday.

Texas provided “incomplete” information that does not enable federal officials to determine whether their proposed voter ID law would be discriminatory, the Justice Department said in a letter Wednesday.

Essentially, the letter from DOJ Civil Rights Division Voting Section Chief T. Christian Herren Jr. restarts the clock on when the Department has to make a decision about whether the law signed by Gov. Rick Perry complies with the Voting Rights Act. They have 60 days from when Texas sends them complete information.

As the Trib notes, this may mean that the law will not be allowed to take effect on January 1, as the DOJ now has another 60 days to make up its mind. Perhaps if the state ever sends the DOJ the information it has requested, the DOJ might be able to issue a ruling.

The Secretary of State filed its original request for preclearance in July, but the department determined in September that it needed more information, specifically 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 who do have valid IDs.

On October 5 the state responded by saying it did not have the requested information because it does not collect race data on voter registration applications. So instead, it submitted a list of all the Hispanic surnames in Texas, as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau. It also offered to run that list against the list of registered voters to determine how many have Hispanic names, and provided a spreadsheet showing how many registered voters resided in each county as of Sept. 16. The spreadsheet 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 Department of Public Safety database — meaning they have been issued an ID — and those who did not provide an ID and could not be matched with a DPS record.

Though the state subsequently offered late last month to use DPS data to compile a breakdown, Wednesday’s letter implies that it has yet to submit the information.

“Although you did not indicate a date when this information would be available, you noted that the state will provide the results of its analysis as expeditiously as possible,” the letter states.

The SOS can take all the time it wants, as far as I’m concerned. The fifth of never works for me as a deadline. Of course, as many people have noted, if the SOS does ever get around to providing the data the DOJ wants, it may very well have the effect of proving the discriminatory effect that opponents of voter ID have been predicting all along. Given that, delaying and hoping for divine intervention or a sudden acceptance of their no-answer answer seems like a decent strategy.

It’s amusing that the DOJ slapped down the SOS again the same week that Republican State Rep. Patricia Harless, who had said that the DOJ’s initial request for more data was “reasonable” and that the SOS should be able to respond quickly, published a lame pro-voter ID op-ed that essentially boiled down to “it won’t suppress as many votes as the critics say” and “it polls well”. I mean, Free Ice Cream Day would probably poll well, too, but that doesn’t mean it would be good public policy. Notably, Harless snuck in a bit about how voter ID would protect us from “fraud”, but nowhere in her piece did she document any actual examples of fraud that voter ID would protect us from. We all know the reason for that, of course, but then Harless can’t exactly come out and admit that the actual purpose of voter ID is to make it harder for some people to vote, as that might sound scary. But a discriminatory law by any other name would still discriminate.

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4 Comments

  1. e_green says:

    “Free Ice Cream Day” DOES poll well – with the people GETTING the “free” ice cream. Not so much with the people PAYING for it.

    Voter ID polls well with people who follow the law and think it’s good public policy to ensure that others do the same. Since the question raised is whether Voter ID requirements prevent people from voting, it’s relevant that 75-80% of voters believe it’s a reasonable request, not “voter suppression”, to show a photo ID to ensure fair elections – in which all eligible voters, and only eligible voters, are able to cast a ballot for the candidates of their choice.

    As to whether Voter ID is discriminatory, since Texas doesn’t categorize voters by race, it’s difficult to estimate the numbers DOJ requested. But DOJ’s request for “Spanish surnames” presupposes the ludicrous notion that every Texan with a “Spanish” last name is Hispanic and/or can’t speak English (a “language minority”), just as they assume minority voters can’t figure out how to get an ID, and that it all adds up to “voter suppression”. But in fact, in Georgia and Indiana where Voter ID laws were in place in 2008, voter turnout increased among all voters, minorities included.

    The fraud that Voter ID will protect against is impersonation fraud (casting a ballot in the name of one or more other people, including deceased and nonexistent voters). Impersonation fraud occurs but is impossible to prosecute, since the fraudsters are, by definition, using a false name and therefore can’t be traced. But it can be (and has been) detected when the actual voter goes to the polls and finds his vote has been stolen. And it can be prevented with photo Voter ID requirements. Voter impersonation can also be used in conjunction with registration fraud, as in a massive case prosecuted in New York that involved registering thousands of nonexistent voters, in whose names fraudsters then voted. A photo Voter ID requirement would have prevented that fraud.

    DOJ is clear in its opposition to Voter ID laws, so its objection is no surprise. But the poor handling of the preclearance submission by our SOS suggests that she too opposes Voter ID and is happy to play along with DOJ to subvert the will of the Legislature and the voters.

  2. I’m sorry, but you are engaging in the same dodge as Rep. Harless and many others, by claiming there is vote fraud by impersonation without offering any evidence for it. Greg Abbott spent over a year and a million dollars on a high-profile effort to combat vote fraud, and he found exactly zero instances of impersonation fraud to prosecute. Much of what he did find was, all of which involved absentee ballots, was flimsy enough to be dismissed in court. If Greg Abbott couldn’t even find one token case to pursue, what does that tell you?

    There are certainly cases of vote fraud out there, but they invariably involve absentee ballots, which are not affected by the voter ID law. If the Republicans who pushed this law care so much about the integrity of the vote, wouldn’t they crack down on fraud by absentee ballot? The question answers itself.

    The comparison to other states is misleading as well, because Texas’ law is more restrictive than any other such law on the books. Many forms of ID that are acceptable in other states, such as student IDs for college students, are not acceptable under Texas’ law. And then there’s this:

    The law requires a Texas driver’s license or a DPS photo ID — or a U.S. passport, a Texas concealed handgun license or a U.S. military ID card. The law also requires DPS to provide ID cards to Texans without drivers licenses. But there are 34 Texas counties without a DPS office and 46 additional counties where DPS offices have been temporarily closed, according to documents furnished to the Department of Justice. Minorities make up a majority of the population in most of those counties.

    In other words, it will be very difficult for many people to be able to comply with the law, and most of those people are minorities. The DOJ’s response is entirely predictable and justified.

  3. […] would have a much greater impact on non-white residents”. In Texas, the state has been unable to provide sufficient information to the DOJ about the effect its voter ID law would have on minorities. It’s not hard to get […]

  4. […] As we know, the Justice Department has been asking the state for data about how this law will affect minority voters, and it’s only in the last couple of weeks […]

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