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USA Sues Texas to Block Voter ID Law

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (CN) - Not so fast, Texas, the Justice Department said in a lawsuit to stop the state from implementing a voter ID law the feds claim was designed to "disproportionately impact Hispanic and African-American voters."

The Department of Justice sued Texas Secretary of State John Steen, and its Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw in Federal Court.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed Senate Bill 14 in 2011.

It 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 showing the person's photo.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and state lawmakers claim SB 14 is necessary to prevent voter fraud.

As a state with a history of voter discrimination, Texas had to get preclearance before changing election procedures, and state officials sued Uncle Sam in District of Columbia Federal Court to get the law approved.

A three-judge panel ruled in August 2012 that the law disenfranchises minorities and the poor.

But within hours of the Supreme Court's decision this summer in Shelby County v. Holder , which struck down the preclearance requirement, Texas announced its intent to enforce SB 14.

SB 14 would give voters lacking an acceptable form of photo ID the option to obtain a photographic " election identification certificate " from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

But the Justice Department says Texas Republicans set up the law to be discriminatory.

"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 approximately 200 miles roundtrip in order to obtain an EIC. Because Texas driver license offices do not conduct business during the weekend or after 6 p.m., some voters are required to take hours of time out of a workday to obtain an EIC.

"Once at a Texas driver 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 to obtain. 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. It costs $345 to obtain a copy of a U.S. citizenship or naturalization papers."

The Justice Department adds: "The process of obtaining an EIC will impose a substantial burden on thousands of voters. As a result, some individuals will not obtain an EIC and will thus be unable to vote. The burden and resulting disenfranchisement will disproportionately affect Hispanic and African-American Texans, who are disproportionately poor and disproportionately lack access to transportation."

The United States wants SB 14 declared unconstitutional.

It also seeks authority to appoint federal observers to oversee Texas elections, and to retain preclearance jurisdiction over Texas under the Voting Rights Act.

Attorney General Abbott called the lawsuit "gutter politics ... offensive to the overwhelming majority of Texans of all races who support this ballot integrity measure."

In his statement, Abbott cited the ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.

"Just two months ago the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal preapproval of state election laws. The Court emphasized that the Tenth Amendment empowers states - not the federal government - to regulate elections. The Obama administration continues to ignore the Tenth Amendment and repeated Supreme Court decisions upholding states' authority to enforce voter identification and redistricting laws."

In a final pot-stirring shot, Abbott added: "The Obama administration needs to move beyond the cynical politics of race and focus on the real issues affecting the daily lives of all Americans, regardless of their race."

The United States sued Texas the day after Kansas and Arizona sued the United States in a fight over voter registration.

Those states, also Republican-controlled, want to demand "concrete documentation evidencing United States citizenship" rather than "a mere oath that the applicant is a United States citizen."

(See story on today's Courthouse News page.)

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