By: Darby Kendall
November is coming – and with it approaches the election of the next President of the United States.
As that huge date, November 8, looms nearer, the reality of Texas’ strict voter identification laws seems to become more and more inalterable. This is a time sensitive subject, and the longer the law is stalled in the courts, the more likely it is that nothing will change before the big election day. If Texas’ strict voter ID law is still in place several months from now, it could have a significant impact on who is able to vote in the coming election. But, before I further discuss the law’s implications, let me give some background.
In 2011, the Texas Legislature passed a bill requiring all voters to present a specific form of photo ID before entering the voting booth. The law came specifically from Senate Bill 14, or as it is commonly referred to, SB 14. Outside of Texas, a variety of other states – 32 to be exact – also either require a photo ID, or are pursuing legislation which would make it required. The validity and fairness of the Texas bill has been challenged, and that case is currently before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. SB 14’s challengers recently appealed to The United States Supreme Court to make the law illegal while the case remains in the judicial system, but the court declined, leaving the voter ID law enforceable. However, the Supreme Court said if the Fifth Circuit fails to come to a decision by July 20, they may intercede due to the timeliness of the case.
Proponents of SB 14 say that it prevents voter fraud, and the requirement of photo ID is not a great burden. However, the actual event of someone impersonating an eligible voter is extremely rare, and the stringent requirements regarding photo ID in Texas can be hard to meet. The state’s regulations on acceptable forms of ID are much stricter than those of other states with similar laws. There are only seven forms of acceptable ID, and they must have both a valid expiration date and perfectly match the name given on the voter rolls – they are: a driver’s license, a personal ID card issued by the state, a concealed handgun license, a military ID, citizenship certificate, or a passport.
The state’s regulations on acceptable forms of ID are much stricter than those of other states with similar laws.
While to some readers owning one of these may not look like too much to ask for, for many of the impoverished, it is. Disproportionately low-income voters often do not posses the basic papers required to obtain a state-issued ID, such as birth certificates and U.S. citizenship papers. This argument has been proven true in several different studies. Primarily African Americans and Latinos are also statistically less likely to own a valid form of photo ID . This means the Texas voter ID law prevents portions of minority groups from being able to vote and make their opinions heard.
If those who have difficulty obtaining the required papers for an ID actually manage to do so, there may be no drivers license office nearby. According to US v Texas Complaint regarding SB 14, “there is no driver license office in scores of Texas counties, and driver license offices in dozens of additional counties are open only one or two days a week.” Similarly, the law “requires some voters to travel approximately 200 miles round trip in order to obtain an EIC [election identification certificate].”
Still, some argue this inconvenience is necessary to prevent voter fraud. However, voter fraud is extremely unlikely, and is even less probable when voting at the polls. According to the Brennan Center at NYU’s Law School, the event of someone impersonating other voters is “an occurrence more rare than getting struck by lightning.”
Voter ID laws are not about preventing fraud, principally because that was never an issue in the first place. Instead, SB 14 creates significantly more problems than it solves. The voter ID law unfairly targets both racial and economic minorities, and further prevents the already overlooked from influencing political change. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in a 2014 dissent, the law “replaced the previously existing voter identification requirements with the strictest regime in the country.” SB 14 needs to be overturned. The only question now is if it will be done in time for the 2016 Presidential Election.
Voter ID laws are not about preventing fraud, principally because that was never an issue in the first place.