Democratic Dallas County commissioners narrowly agreed [Tuesday] afternoon to join a lawsuit against Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry over state efforts to enforce a controversial voter identification law.
Democratic Commissioner Elba Garcia stepped out of the partisan fray inextricably linked to the national debate on voter ID laws and joined Republican colleague Mike Cantrell in voting against the move. County Judge Clay Jenkins and commissioners Theresa Daniel and John Wiley Price, all Democrats, votes for the measure.
Supporters of suing, including District Attorney Craig Watkins, said the move is an attempt to protect voters’ rights. An estimated 220,000 county voters lack the identification the law would require.
Cantrell, the lone Republican commissioner, accused his colleagues of using county funds to push a partisan agenda. Garcia criticized the lack of detailed information on what joining the suit will cost.
Here’s a fuller story in the DMN that adds a few more details.
Missing from the vote at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting was a clear idea of just how much the county’s direct involvement will cost taxpayers.
That’s largely because commissioners haven’t been told what expenses will need to be covered — or how much of those costs will be paid by the lawsuit’s existing plaintiffs. Before the vote, Cantrell failed to get attorney Chad Dunn to provide ballpark figures of the suit’s total cost or each plaintiff’s likely contribution.
That ambiguity prompted Garcia’s opposition. Garcia said she wanted more time to figure out how much the county could end up paying Dunn’s firm. She said officials were told they had to vote Tuesday so that the state could be served with legal papers in the case before a hearing scheduled for next month.
Garcia said that state leaders still hadn’t been served with the initial complaint from the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in June.
“When I ask for one week and I’m told it’s now or never, you won’t be a part of it, I take that as my questions are not important,” Garcia said.
When asked why attorneys couldn’t request that the September hearing be moved to allow both sides more time to prepare, Jenkins said there is no guarantee such a request would be granted.
As she did on the campaign trail last year, Daniel said managing the county’s budget is the primary job of commissioners. But she added Tuesday that fighting the state is the “right thing to do” because Texas is using taxpayer money to disenfranchise voters.
“That’s wrong, but that’s on somebody else’s plate,” she said.
According to this DMN story from before the vote, the commissioners voted to hire a law firm to join a federal lawsuit. That would be the Veasey lawsuit, which of course is now enmeshed with the Justice Department lawsuit. I’m honestly not sure what the practical effect of this will be, but hey, the more the merrier. The question about how much this will cost is a fair one, and if it turns out to be a bigger number than expected it will be a political issue for County Judge Clay Jenkins and DA Craig Watkins, both of whom are up for re-election next year. As for the complaint about pushing a partisan agenda, well, tell it to Greg Abbott. A statement from the Dallas County Democratic Party is beneath the fold, and BOR, The Trib, and Trail Blazers have more.
Today the Dallas County Commissioners Court voted to join the federal lawsuit filed by North Texas Congressman Marc Veasey and other elected officials and voters to stop the enforcement of Texas’ discriminatory photo Voter ID law.
“This terrible law has been stuck down by the DOJ and then later denounced for ‘strict unforgiving burdens on the poor and racial minorities in Texas’ – nothing has changed,” said Taylor Holden, Dallas County Democratic Party Executive Director. “Perry and Abbott are not interested in electoral integrity, they simply want to restrict access to voting,” she said.
Last year, the Texas Secretary of State’s office did not find matching driver licenses or state-issued photo IDs for 2.4 million Texas voters, including 220,000 Dallas County voters. Dallas County has Department of Public Safety ID-issuing offices, but none in the southeastern quadrant of Dallas County, where many minority and poor voters live.
Despite claims to the contrary, Voter ID comes at a high cost. Voters must take time off work, travel and pay for the legal documents that are prerequisites to obtaining the state’s “free” photo Voter ID. Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. Marriage licenses, required for married women whose birth certificates include a maiden name, can cost between $8 and $20. To compare, in today’s dollars, the notorious poll tax would be $10.64.
We are proud of the Commissioners Court for their courageous action in support of sacred voting rights, which are as important as public health and public works.