Texas’ solution in search of a problem

Share via

Concluding that it would disenfranchise Latino voters, the U.S. Justice Departmenthas blocked a Texas law requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls. The department’s action is not, as Gov. Rick Perry complains, an example of “continuing and pervasive federal overreach” but rather an attempt to give force to the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. That it will be welcomed by Democrats is irrelevant.

Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, states with a history of voting discrimination against minorities must “pre-clear” changes in their election procedures with either the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington. In refusing to approve Texas’ voter ID law — one of several enacted or proposed by Republican legislators across the country — Assistant Atty. Gen. Thomas E. Perez said that Latinos disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card. That Texas planned to offer potential voters free “election identification certificates” didn’t change the equation, Perez said, because they would be as difficult for residents without cars to obtain as driver’s licenses.

The Justice Department’s rejection of the Texas law — and earlier of a South Carolina voter ID requirement — properly focused on whether it would reduce minority participation at the polls. But Perez also addressed the supposed rationale for voter ID. He conceded that the Supreme Court, in upholding an Indiana voter ID law in 2008, had held that states had a legitimate interest in preventing fraud. However, he said, Texas had not offered proof of “significant in-person voter impersonation not already addressed by the state’s existing laws.”


It isn’t just in Texas that voter ID laws are a solution in search of a problem. A 2007 study by the liberal Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found scant evidence of impersonation at the polls. Yet Republican-controlled state legislatures continue to push voter ID legislation along with other measures, such as restrictions on early voting and same-day registration, that make it harder for minorities and young people to exercise the franchise. The motive is transparent: Those groups disproportionately support Democratic candidates. (If Republicans want to challenge those loyalties, they should change their message.)

Reacting to the Justice Department decision, Perry protested that the Texas law “requires nothing more extensive than the type of photo identification necessary to receive a library card or board an airplane.” But voting is different from book-borrowing or air travel: It is a constitutional right that should be as simple as possible to exercise lawfully. A federal court should concur with the Justice Department that Texas’ voter ID law undermines that ideal.