CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (CN) — The Justice Department asked a federal judge to force Texas to follow a court order restricting its photo ID voting law instead of using a "standard [that] is incorrect and far harsher than the court-ordered standard."
Texas "recast" the wording of the court order, and is instructing poll officials and workers incorrectly, using "training and educational materials" that have "already been rejected by this court and the Fifth Circuit," the Justice Department says in its motion to enforce the order.
Texas "has refused to conform" to the court order and "is about to begin a mass media campaign" with "an erroneous message would compound — rather than cure — the harm caused by SB 14," the motion states.
Texas Senate Bill 14, signed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011, is the state's photo ID voting law.
The Fifth Circuit ruled in July that SB 14 discriminates against minorities, and ordered the Department of Justice and the Texas Attorney General's Office to come up with an interim plan for the Nov. 8 general election.
The plan must roll back the state's demand that voters have one of seven acceptable forms of photo ID.
U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos approved an interim plan on Aug. 10. It allows Texans whose names are on the voter rolls to present a certified birth certificate, bank statement, utility bill, government check or paycheck, along with a signed affidavit, explaining why they could not obtain an acceptable photo ID.
The plan also lets registered voters cast ballots even if their SB 14 photo ID expired up to four years ago.
Ramos also ordered Texas to spend at least $2.5 million on a voter-education campaign.
Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos' office kicked off the campaign with a news release on VoteTexas.org, explaining voters' options under the court order.
But the Department of Justice says Cascos used language that is "misleading" and "inconsistent" with the court order.
"At this critical stage, such materials should maximize accuracy and minimize confusion," the Department of Justice says. "Texas's materials do neither."
In its motion to enforce, the Justice Department says Texas took creative license with this passage: "Defendants shall continue to educate voters in subsequent elections concerning both voter identification requirements and the opportunity for voters who do not possess SB 14 ID and cannot reasonably obtain it to cast a regular ballot."
The motion states: "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."
This could confuse poll workers and voters, to make them believe that only voters who "have not obtained" an SB 14 photo ID can vote with an affidavit, not those who "do not possess" one, as spelled out in the order, the Justice Department says.
It says Texas' alterations have "narrowed dramatically" the number of Texans eligible to vote.
"For instance, voters whose identification has expired by more than four years, whose identification has been lost or stolen, and who have surrendered identification to the State have all 'obtained' SB 14 ID but no longer 'possess' it. Texas' instructions would require its poll officials to deny those voters access to a regular ballot," the motion states.
Texas is also telling voters they will be barred from the polls if they "cannot obtain" SB 14 ID, a departure from the court-ordered phrase "cannot reasonably obtain it."
The word "reasonably" is important because it means voters with a "reasonable impediment" to getting a photo ID can vote with an affidavit, the Justice Department says.
The affidavit lists lack of transportation, disability or illness, work schedule, lost or stolen photo ID and family responsibilities, as acceptable impediments.
"The State's excessively rigid 'cannot obtain' standard appears to impose an impossibility standard on affected voters not contemplated by the parties' agreement or this court's remedial order," the motion states.
The Department of Justice asked Judge Ramos for expedited relief.
"Time is short. The State is developing printed materials and mass media advertising that improperly narrow the remedial order," the motion states.
It is signed by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas and the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division, in Washington, D.C.
The United States wants Texas to correct all poll worker and voter education materials, make sure all advertisements "accurately reflect the text" of the order and issue corrections of its press releases.
Ramos ordered Texas to reply to the motion by Friday and set a hearing for Sept. 12.
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