In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was enacted as temporary legislation for certain states. On March 12, 2012, acting under Section 5 of that Act, the U.S. The DOJ claimed the law would disenfranchise minority voters – the same argument Attorney General Eric Holder used to block South Carolina’s voter ID law.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, supports the new law and believes the decision was political. “Voter identification laws are vital to protecting the integrity of the democratic process. Today’s decision reeks of politics and appears to be an effort by the Department of Justice to carry water for the President’s reelection campaign,” he remarked. Given the number of states with similar laws that were cleared to begin immediate enforcement (Kansas, Tennessee and Wisconsin in 2011 alone) and the fact that the DOJ ordered a Federal District Court Judge to dismiss all complaints against Black Panther Party members who engaged in voter intimidation on Election Day, Nov. 4, 2008, in Philadelphia, many agree with him.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry stated, “Texas has a responsibility to ensure elections are fair and accurately reflect the will of voters,” he said. “The DOJ has no valid reason for rejecting this law, which requires nothing more extensive than the type of photo identification necessary to receive a library card or board an airplane. Their denial is yet another example of the Obama Administration‘s continuing and pervasive federal overreach.”
As a state with a history of voter discrimination, Texas is required under Section 5 of the VRA to get advance approval of voting changes. According to the DOJ website the Attorney General’s office receives as many as 22,000 voting change submissions annually. Most submittals are determined to have met the Section 5 standard; the Attorney General has objected to about one percent of the changes submitted.
Texas State officials first asked for preclearance in July 2011. On January 23, 2012, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed suit against the DOJ, asserting that Section 5 places Texas at a disadvantage. “Texas should be allowed the same authority other states have to protect the integrity of elections. Voter ID laws do not discriminate because they apply to all voters regardless of race.”
News segments discuss regularly whether existing voter laws adequately protect minority, poor, and elderly voters. However, less attention is given to the problem of voter fraud. The right to vote in the U.S. includes the right not to have that vote diluted or negated by fraudulent votes. In Harris County, Texas, voting irregularities have raised serious concerns over election integrity. In 2008, between 160,000 and 333,000 non-citizens were illegally registered to vote in Texas.
The impact of election integrity has been widely researched. One study conducted by University of Missouri in 2006 found that voter turnout improved with the new photo ID requirements. Another study completed by the Universities of Delaware and Nebraska had similar findings, concluding that there was no significant evidence of decreased turnout in precincts with higher percentages of minority, poor or elderly voters.
The DOJ’s objection has the Texas law blocked until a federal panel decides whether Texas will be allowed to enforce it. The day after the DOJ denied Texas authority to enforce, the State filed a request with the panel to submit a petition charging that Section 5 of the VRA “exceeds the enumerated powers of Congress and conflicts with Article IV of the Constitution and the Tenth Amendment.” A lawsuit currently pending before the Federal Appeals Court D.C. Circuit also challenges the constitutionality of Section 5, so it is possible the provision will no longer be on the books in the near future. If the provision were overturned, Texas could change its voting rules without federal approval or interference.