They’ve battled in court, and now they’re battling in the news.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday called a lawyer for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus unethical for his suggestion that people in the Rio Grande Valley attempt to vote without a photo ID.
Jose Garza, a lawyer who represents MALC in its fights against the state of Texas on voter ID and redistricting, reportedly encouraged voters in Edinburg to try to cast a ballot in next month’s city council elections without a photo ID. State lawmakers passed the voter ID bill — which requires voters to show one of several state- or federally issued forms of ID to vote — in 2011, but it was kept on hold until a June U.S. Supreme Court decision made its implementation possible.
“I would encourage everybody who wants to test this law to go and attempt to cast their ballot using their voter registration card,” Garza told the Rio Grande Guardian last week. “Let us test the impact of this law. We need to be able to measure how many people this law kept from voting.”
Abbott, whose office sued the Obama administration when the federal government originally blocked the ID requirement, said Monday that Garza is the one guilty of trying to suppress the vote, the common argument for opponents of the photo requirement who call the measure a 21st-century poll tax.
“It is always unethical for a lawyer to advise someone to violate Texas law. Even worse, Garza’s advice does not inform voters to bring one of the acceptable forms of voter ID,” Abbott said in a statement. “Instead, in an attempt to create a false impression that voter ID suppresses votes, the unethical advice is to come to the polls without the needed ID.”
Garza has since released a statement that fired back at Abbott.
Today, the attorney general questioned my integrity and said that I am advising voters to come to the polls without the photo identification that is now required to vote. Let me be very clear and set the record straight, I have never encouraged Texans to violate the law.
Everyone who is legally registered and eligible to vote ought to go vote. For those that are eligible and registered, but cannot obtain a valid photo ID as required by SB 14, I would advise them to also go vote and possibly cast a provisional ballot. Do not stay home and allow a discriminatory law to suppress your vote and voice. That is my message to Edinburg’s voters.
A federal court denied preclearance to Texas’ voter/photo ID law, stating that the undisputed record of evidence demonstrated that the voter identification requirement would have harmed the right to vote for many Texas minorities. Just because Section 5 is not in effect at the moment does not mean that the retrogressive effect of the photo identification requirement does not exist. I would advise the attorney general to do everything in his power to address the concerns of the D.C. Federal District Court and alleviate the undue burden that is being placed on the poor to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
General Abbott’s statement about my personal integrity is yet another ill-advised tactic to evade responsibility and accountability for seeking the implementation of an unjust and, I believe, unconstitutional law. If the citizens of Edinburg cannot vote, it is not because of me, but because of a law designed to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of poor and minority voters.
Emphasis in the original. Speaking of which, let’s go to the original story to see what really was said and meant.
Jose Garza believes a new Texas law requiring voters to bring along a certain type of photo identification is unconstitutional. He wants to bring a lawsuit against Texas and for this he needs practical examples of registered voters being denied the right to vote because they did not show up with an approved photo ID card.
“Anybody who is validly registered to vote and has a registration card or is clearly on the registration rolls should go and attempt to vote anyway, even if they do not have a photo ID,” Garza told the Guardian. “I believe the photo ID law is unconstitutional.”
“The photo ID legislation may be the law of the land in Texas but I believe it is unconstitutional. The only way you can challenge it is to find people who have been denied the right to vote because they did not comply with this specific term,” Garza said.
“So, I would encourage everybody who wants to test this law to go and attempt to cast their ballot using their voter registration card. Let us test the impact of this law. We need to be able to measure how many people this law kept from voting.”
“You can be denied the right to vote if you do not have the right type of photo ID. If you have a driver’s license that has been expired for more than 60 days that is not good enough. If you have a photo ID from your university or college, that is not good enough. If you have a photo ID from work, an employee from a school district, a city, the state of Texas or the federal government, that is not good enough. But if you have a photo ID from your concealed hand gun license, you can vote,” Garza explained.
“If you were involved in an accident and you have a DWI and your license has been suspended, even though you are otherwise eligible to vote, if your license has been suspended for more than 60 days, you cannot use that as an ID at the polling place and you will not be allowed to vote.”
Edinburg is a university town. Garza said UT-Pan American students that are registered to vote should take along their student photo ID card to the polls and offer this as a photo ID card. If they and others who are on the voter rolls are denied the right to vote, they should call MALC, the ACLU, MALDEF, LULAC, or the South Texas Civil Rights Project, Garza said.
A reporter put it to Garza that if such voters carry out his advice they may could be denied their legitimate right to vote and that this could influence the outcome of the Edinburg special election. Garza acknowledged this was the case but said the fight to stop voter suppression in Texas was worth it.
“It is better than staying home. If a voter is denied the right, they should call us or LULAC or the Texas Civil Rights Project or the ACLU or MALDEF. All of these groups are interested in the impact of this law. They will want to hear from those who are being denied the right to vote because they did not have the appropriate photo ID,” Garza said.
“If you are a student and all you have is your student ID you should try to vote, show it. They are going to be denied but they are otherwise eligible. A student photo ID is as good a proof of who you say you are as a concealed hand gun license is.”
On the one hand, Garza is clearly saying that anyone who is registered to vote but doesn’t have one of the very few types of legal ID should go and vote anyway. If nothing else, seeing how many provisional votes wind up getting cast and where they are will help clarify things as the next round of litigation moves forward. You know that I agree with Garza about the unconstitutional nature of voter ID, and that I believe Texas’ ridiculous and arbitrary restrictions on what ID is required is strong evidence of the discriminatory intent of this law. Still, Garza does appear to be calling for what is basically civil disobedience here. I admire the sentiment, but it’s not clear what would be gained by it. There’s no capacity for shame among Abbott and his acolytes, and whatever the courts say the way to win on this is by winning elections. Casting needless provisional votes, however strong a statement, won’t help with that. Go vote whether you have the required ID or not, but do bring it if you have it.