The Department of Justice is blocking a Texas law that would require all voters to present photo identification to vote, likely further fueling an intense partisan debate on this issue.
In a letter to Texas officials, Thomas Perez, head of DOJ’s Office of Civil Rights, argued that the law could disproportionately impact Latino voters, who are more likely than white voters to not currently have driver’s licenses or other kinds of photo identification.
“Hispanic registered voters are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic registered voters to lack such identification,” Perez wrote.
The Department of Justice also blocked South Carolina’s voter identification law in December, arguing it would disproportionally affect black and elderly voters.
South Carolina is appealing the ruling, a move Texas is very likely to make as well.
DOJ’s decision is the latest in what is likely to be a fight over voting laws that will continue up to November’s elections.
Democrats, including Obama administration officials, argue that the identification laws and similar provisions passed since 2008 are designed largely to limit the voting of liberal-leaning voters, particularly people under 30, African-Americans and Hispanics. Blacks and Hispanics disproportionately lack photo identification.
Republicans, who have been the driving force in pushing these provisions through state legislatures, say they are attempting to fight voter fraud, although there is little evidence that voter fraud is a major problem in American elections.
Fifteen states now have photo ID requirements on the books, and the Pennsylvania legislature is considering the adoption of a similar law this week. But they are generating legal scrutiny from civil rights organizations like the NAACP, as well as the Obama administration.
Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a group of states, mostly in the South, including South Carolina and Texas, must get changes to their voting rights laws pre-approved by the Justice Department. In other states, where DOJ does not have the authority, the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups are filing lawsuits to get the provisions struck down.
A judge in Wisconsin has temporarily suspended the voter ID law there.
Whether these laws would ultimately affect voting results in 2012 is unknown. In 2008, African-American turnout in Georgia increased, despite the state having passed a law requiring voters to present photo identification. But civil rights groups say these provisions are unfair, and could have an impact if the presidential race is close and comes down to states like Wisconsin.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr