(August 23, 2017)
AUSTIN — A federal judge who has compared Texas’ voter ID requirements to a “poll tax” on minorities once again blocked the law on Wednesday (Aug. 23), rejecting a weakened version backed by the Trump administration and dealing Texas Republicans another defeat in their efforts to ensure only those who are legally qualified can vote.
U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, a Barack Obama nominee, rejected changes signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott this summer as not only lacking but also potentially chilling to voters because of new criminal penalties. The new version didn’t expand the list of acceptable photo identifications — meaning gun licenses remained sufficient proof to vote, but not college student IDs.
Instead, the changes would allow people who lack a required ID to cast a ballot if they signed an affidavit and brought paperwork that showed their name and address, such as a bank statement or utility bill. Those revisions were supported by the U.S. Justice Department, which under President Barack Obama had joined Democrats and minority rights groups in suing over the law.
But that position has changed with President Donald Trump in charge, who has established a commission to investigate allegations of voter fraud in the 2016 elections. In February, the Justice Department abandoned the argument Texas passed voter ID rules with discrimination in mind and said changes signed by Abbott should satisfy the courts.
Texas first passed the voter ID law in 2011, the same year the GOP-controlled Legislature adopted voting maps that were also struck down as discriminatory.
Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the latest ruling “outrageous” and said an appeals court should void the decision.
“The U.S. Department of Justice is satisfied that the amended voter ID law has no discriminatory purpose or effect. Safeguarding the integrity of elections in Texas is essential to preserving our democracy,” Paxton said in a statement.
But Gonazles Ramos, who first struck down the law in 2014, said Texas didn’t go far enough with its changes and said that criminal penalties Texas attached to lying on the affidavit could have a chilling effect on voters who, fearful of making an innocent mistake on the form, simply won’t cast a ballot.