Texas GOP Ramps Up Effort To Pass Voter ID Law Changes

Bill Clark/CQPHO

Texas Republicans ramped up their efforts to pass changes to the state’s voter ID law that they hope will prevent the state from being put back under the Voting Rights Act regime that would require them to get federal approval for election law changes.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) requested late Sunday night that a Senate bill modifying the law be considered an “emergency matter,” putting it on track for a Tuesday vote in the House, the Austin Statesmen reported. The legislation previously was passed in the Senate, but also has been added as an amendment to a House elections administration bill as a back-up plan to get it passed through both chambers, according to the Texas Tribune.

The bill codifies the changes to Texas’ 2011 voter ID law the state was ordered to make by a court after the law was struck down by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last summer. Voters without the required ID can still vote if they sign an affidavit and show another form of identification — such as a utilities bill or paycheck — with their name and address, per the court-approved agreement between Texas and those who sued the state challenging the law.

However, the legislation also imposes a stiff penalty that carries up to 10 years in jail for anyone who lies in signing the declaration that says they faced a “reasonable impediment” to getting the types of ID required by the 2011 law.

Democrats in the state Senate voted mostly against the bill in March, and saw their amendments to soften the penalty and make student IDs an acceptable form of identification rejected. Democrats are also skeptical that the bill should free Texas from being placed back under what’s known as pre-clearance, the process by which certain states have to get federal approval for elections policy changes under the Voting Rights Act. Texas was unable to implement the 2011 voter ID law due to pre-clearance until 2013, when the Supreme Court gutted the VRA formula that put Texas and other states with a history of racially discriminatory voting practices under the pre-clearance regime.

However, a separate provision of the Voting Rights Act says that states that are found to have passed laws with intent to discriminate can be subjected to the pre-clearance regime. A district judge has twice ruled that Texas’ 2011 law was passed with the intent to discriminate against minority voters.

“Regardless of what we do Tuesday, regardless of what we do this legislative session, does not erase the discriminatory intent in 2011,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, chairman of the Mexican American Legal Caucus, according to the Statesmen.