50-State Government Relations Commentary and Insight

Texans Look to Panel of Three Federal District Judges to Decide Fate of Key Piece of Voter ID Legislation

By: Christine Garber, Research Analyst
July 20, 2012

Election season is fast approaching, and Texans are looking to a panel of three federal district judges to decide the fate of a key piece of voter legislation.

The Voter ID Act (SB 14) was enacted in 2011 and requires all voters to have a government approved photo ID.  A state seeking to change its election laws must gain approval from the federal government, according to the Voter Rights Act. Already, the Texas law has seen its first setback, by being denied  such“pre-clearance” by the feds.  Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott took the case to the courts to decide.   Arguments were held earlier in July, and a decision from the court will determine the viability of Texas’s Voter ID.

Voter ID was an extremely hot topic of the 2011 legislation.  Gov. Rick Perry (R) declared it an “emergency item.”  Even with a clear Republican majority in the House, Voter ID was the subject of lengthy debate, although its success was never really in doubt.  No less than 63 amendments were introduced by legislators of both parties, and heated deliberations extended late into the night on many occasions.

Texas isn’t alone.  Several states are awaiting approval from the Department of Justice for “pre-clearance” for their newly enacted Voter ID acts.  South Carolina, in particular, is in a similar position as Texas, having been initially denied “pre-clearance” and now suing the DOJ.  Eyes are on this upcoming ruling to gauge the future of such voter identification laws.

Texas could possibly get a decision in time for 2012 November election, but it’s unlikely.  Even though the court case was considered “expedited” in an effort to have a plan in place before November, delays on both sides set the case back.  The court must have a ruling by August 31 for Texas to have time to implement the law.

 

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