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Citizens Sue Texas Over Voter ID Law

CORPUS CHRISTI (CN) - Texas' voter ID law is a "voter suppression law," adopted with the intent "to suppress the vote of African American and Hispanic voters," Texans claim in Federal Court.

Lead plaintiff Belinda Ortiz and La Union Del Pueblo Entero, a nonprofit founded by Cesar Chavez that advocates for low-wage workers, sued Texas, its secretary of state and the director of its Department of Public Safety.

All nine individual plaintiffs live in Willacy County, an hour from the Mexico border.

The Texas Legislature approved the voter ID bill, SB 14, in 2011.

The law requires Texas voters to come to the polls with photo identification, limited to a driver's license, personal identification card or concealed handgun license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety, a U.S. passport, a U.S. military ID bearing the person's photo, or a U.S. citizenship certificate with photo.

The plaintiffs claim Texas' Republican-controlled Legislature passed the law in the face of "dramatic growth in state's Hispanic population," which grew from 32 percent in 2000 to 37.6 percent in 2010, according to U.S. Census data.

In August 2012 a three-judge panel at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia enjoined enforcement of the law, finding Texas legislators had ignored warnings that SB 14 would disenfranchise thousands of poor and minority voters who are less likely to have the required identification.

But with the Supreme Court ruling this summer in Shelby County v. Holder, which threw out the requirement that Texas get federal preclearance for changes to its election laws, SB 14 took effect.

Under SB 14, voters who do not have an acceptable form of photo ID can apply for an election identification certificate at a Texas Department of Public Safety office.

The plaintiffs say that is not easy for Texans who live in rural areas without public transportation and do not drive.

"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," the complaint states. "SB 14 requires some voters to travel many miles roundtrip in order to obtain an EIC [election identification certificate].

"Because Texas driver license offices generally do not conduct business during the weekend or after 6 p.m., some voters are required to take hours or time out of a workday to obtain an EIC.

"Once at a Texas drivers license office a voter must present one or more of the following documents to obtain an EIC: (1) an expired Texas driver's license or personal ID card; (2) an original or certified copy of a birth certificate; (3) U.S. citizenship or naturalization papers; or (4) a court order indicating a change of name or gender. ... Each of the documents needed to procure an EIC costs money. ... A copy of a certified birth certificate from the Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics - the least expensive option for those born in Texas - is $22. A copy of U.S. citizenship or naturalization papers will cost $345."

SB 14 also requires that a voter's name on his or her ID must match the name on the state's voter registration rolls.

Ortiz says this rule particularly affects women who take their husband's last name, and are more likely than men to have variation between the names on their photo ID and voter rolls.

"Name variances may also occur where voters use an English version of Spanish names on one or the other of the required documents, or nick-names, especially unfamiliar nick-names such as 'Tita,' 'Chito,' 'Chuey,'" the complaint states.

Each of the lawsuit's nine named plaintiffs are U.S. citizens.

They claim they can afford the $22 for a Texas birth certificate needed to get an election identification certificate "only by making difficult and unreasonable financial sacrifices."

They seek a declaration that SB 14 violates the Voting Rights Act, the 14th and 15th Amendments and the Texas Constitution, and they want Texas enjoined from enforcing it.

They are represented by Jose Garza with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, of San Antonio.

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