The Department of Justice complained that Attorney General Ken Paxton will scare Latino and black voters away from the polls with his recent statement that anyone who lies about not being able to get a photo ID “can be prosecuted for perjury.”
Paxton made the statement in a recent interview with Fox News.
Two private plaintiffs, the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches and League of United Latin American Citizens, asked the federal judge on Sept. 7 to enforce her order. The Department of Justice also has asked U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos to enforce her Aug. 10 interim order.
The order lets Texans present a certified birth certificate, bank statement or paycheck to poll workers and sign an affidavit stating they “cannot reasonably obtain” one of seven acceptable forms of photo ID under Texas’s photo ID law, SB 14, signed by former Gov. Rick Perry in 2011.
In her order, Judge Gonzales Ramos also told Texas to spend at least $2.5 million on voter education, after the Fifth Circuit ruled in July that SB 14 discriminates against minorities.
The Justice Department claimed in its Sept. 6 motion to enforce that Texas “recast” the judge’s order, to give voters the false impression they could not vote if their ID has been lost or stolen.
Texas fired back Monday, in a response to the motion to enforce. Paxton claims his office has “spent countless hours” updating the VoteTexas.gov website, creating online training for poll workers, revising guidelines for election officials in the state’s 254 counties, which already have been distributed to more than 4,800 election officials, creating ads and a social media campaign, and the Department of Justice wants to undo all that because of a few words in the materials with which it disagrees.
“With less than 60 days left before the November 2016 general election, the motion to enforce filed by the United States and joined by the private plaintiffs seeks to bring the State’s election machinery to a halt over the alleged omission of a single word in its voter education and election official training materials,” Paxton says in his response.
The Department of Justice disagrees. It says Texas has “narrowed dramatically” the number of eligible voters by changing the wording of the order.
“Rather than educating voters and poll officials about opportunities to cast a regular ballot for those who ‘do not possess SB 14 ID and cannot reasonably obtain it,’ the state has recast that language to limit the opportunity to cast a regular ballot solely to those voters who present SB 14 ID or who ‘have not obtained’ and ‘cannot obtain’ SB 14 ID,” the Justice Department says, citing the interim order.
It says Texas’ wording could confuse voters that they can use an affidavit to vote only if it was impossible for them to get an SB 14 ID
The state’s affidavit of “Reasonable Impediment” cites lack of transportation, disability or illness, work schedule, lost or stolen photo ID and family responsibilities as acceptable impediments to getting an SB 14 ID.
Paxton insists that the Justice Department is “reading the phrases ‘cannot obtain’ or ‘unable to obtain’ in a vacuum” and that a full reading of the state’s guidelines are “exactly” what the DOJ, and the judge, want them to say.
Texas’s answer also addresses concerns the Justice Department raised about statements attributed to Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart in an Aug. 26 story in the Houston Press. Stanart is the chief election officer for the county’s more than 2 million eligible voters.
“The article quotes Mr. Stanart as making the following statements: ‘If I suspect someone has fraudulently signed a form saying they don’t have that ID, then I think that’s an issue,’ he said. ‘You can’t skip around the photo ID requirement. It’s an oath that people are signing. Whether anything happens, that’s up to the [Harris County District Attorney’s Office],'” Texas states in its 22-page answer.
The NAACP and League of United Latin American Citizens say in their own motion to enforce the order that Stanart’s and Paxton’s remarks to the press could have a chilling effect on minority voter turnout.
The civil rights groups’ Sept. 7 motion cites a declaration from Juanita Valdez Cox, executive director of La Union del Pueblo Entero, a Latino advocacy group created by the late migrant worker rights activist Cesar Chavez.
“Many people in our community live in extreme poverty, have limited education, and little or no voting experience. They are often unwilling to take any risks, perceived or otherwise, that might jeopardize the fragile wellbeing of their family. News reports that the government may criminally prosecute people who have voted, for whatever reason, will keep people away from the polls. It is that simple,” Valdez says in the motion.
But Texas says the comments from Paxton and Stanart are true to the interim order.
“The quoted statements merely confirm that voters who have SB 14 ID must present it when voting in person,” the answer states.
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