Court Help Sought After Texas Official’s Threats To Investigate Voters Without IDs

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More than a month after Texas submitted an agreement to soften its voter ID law that an appeals court called discriminatory, the legal fight around the law continues as its critics accuse Texas of allowing officials to undermine the agreement.

A district judge on Thursday scheduled a hearing later this month on the concerns raised by the private challengers in the lawsuit against the law.

The challengers — which include voter advocacy groups and civil rights organizations — filed a motion Wednesday questioning the comments made by Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart to the Houston Press last month.

Stanart said he intends to investigate every voter who claims he or she does not have the required photo ID and signs the court-approved affidavit exempting them from the ID requirement. He said he would check the state’s database of people to whom it has issued IDs against the voters who sign the affidavit to see if they are lying about not having the required ID. Stanart said that it’s “up to” the county clerk’s office “whether anything happens” from the investigation.

“If the media reports are correct, Texas’s public officials are singling out for wholesale criminal investigation the disproportionately African American and Hispanic class of voters who were discriminated against by SB 14,” the challengers said in the motion. They said such behavior is “intimidating,
unlawful, and contrary to the purpose” of the court-approved agreement.

The agreement was hashed out after the full U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July that the Texas voter ID law had the effect of discriminating against minority voters. Texas agreed to offer voters who don’t have the required photo ID the option of voting via an affidavit, as long as they provide another form of identification that shows their name and address. The affidavit declares that those voters don’t have the required photo ID and cannot reasonably obtain it.

According to the challengers’ motion, the voting rights groups asked the state to looking into the county clerk’s comments and “take action to cure
the damaging effects of the publication of such statements.” Texas state officials refused, the motion said, and told the challengers that state officials “do not have any control over Mr. Stanart or his dealings with the press.”

Separately the Department of Justice this week asked the district court to stop Texas’ misleading advertising of the exemption available for non-ID holding voters. Texas is telling voters the affidavit option is available for those “have not obtained” and “cannot obtain” the required ID, according to the DOJ motion.

“That standard is incorrect and far harsher than the Court-ordered standard it would displace,” the DOJ said. “By recasting the Court’s language, Texas has narrowed dramatically the scope of voters protected by the Court’s Order.”

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has asked for response briefs and will hold a hearing on both issues on Sept. 19.

[H/T Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog]

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