Donald Trump came to power on a mandate to overhaul US voter identification laws. Now, after months of setbacks, Texas Republicans appear to have won a minor victory.
The federal appeals court in New Orleans agreed by a vote of 2 to 1 to stay a permanent injunction on throwing out new voter ID laws that the Trump administration would like to have pushed through.
Until now, the state had allowed those voting in state elections to cast their ballots without presenting any proof of ID under certain conditions, but Republicans want the law changed, so that photo ID is mandatory. A previous judgment by US District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos allowed people in the state to vote if they could prove that significant impediments were preventing them from obtaining photo ID. But this new vote means that the system will now be revised, just in time for new elections in Texas this November.
Following the ruling, Texas will fall back on an old voter identification measure, called Senate Bill 5. Under this bill, all voters will have to sign a declaration that they are who they say they are if they can’t produce voter ID, under penalty of perjury.
The Circuit Judges who voted to block the injunction, Jerry Smith, and Jennifer Walker Elrod, said that the state had done enough to prove that it was not acting with discriminatory intent. They argued that Texas had presented them with a case which they judged on its merits and that it was now clear that the alleged harm that the injunction would have caused was remedied by the implementation of Senate Bill 5.
There were, however, those that disagreed. The Circuit Judge who voted against blocking the injunction, Judge James Graves Jr., said that the state needed to be more comprehensive. In his view, the lawful approach would be to put a stay on both the district court’s order and the Senate Bill 5 legislation.
On August 23, district judge Gonzales Ramos placed an injunction on the original voter ID law, suggesting that it was a poll tax on minority voters. Her concern was that voter ID laws would discourage minority voters from voting, especially if there is a threat of legal action should they vote under a false name. Minority voters, she argued, do not have the same level of access to identification services, thanks to low incomes and lack of transport.
The new stay suspends Gonzales Ramos’ order and means that that state can appeal to the appeal court and have its voter ID laws reconsidered.
Senate Bill 5 does not change the number of acceptable photo ID documents. However, documents such as gun license remain sufficient proof.
Under the new system, those who do not have valid photo ID will need to sign an affidavit as well as show election officials paperwork proving their address, such as a utility bill. The new rules, should they be enforced in November, will make it more difficult for those without valid ID to vote. Proponents of the bill also hope, however, that it will discourage illegal voting, something which President Trump displayed concern about during the 2016 election campaign.
The US Justice Department, which was once opposed to changes in voter ID laws, has now changed its mind since President Trump came to power back in January. The Department said that it was pleased that, following the ruling of the Fifth Circuit, that Texas would be able to proceed with laws enacted by its legislature.
Texas has traditionally had one of the strictest voter ID laws in the Union. Since the introduction of increasingly lax laws in other states, the state has fought hard to preserve its election integrity. However, the Legislature, which has been under GOP control since 2011, has come under increasing pressure to relent and abandon its strict laws under the charge of discrimination.
The Justice Department says that it fully supports the actions of the court and the desire of the Texas Legislature to uphold its strict voter ID laws. An official statement from the Justice Department said that “preserving the integrity of the ballot is vital.” Studies since the election have suggested voting irregularities in certain states, although not in Texas.
The state has been in trouble with the courts in the past for alleged acts of racial discrimination against voters. A federal court recently found that Texas had been redrawing voting districts on the basis of race, something which is forbidden by federal law.