Federal Judges Block Texas Voter ID Law

What the three-judge panel wrote today in rejecting the state’s requirement that all Texas voters have to bring a form of government-issued identification in order to cast a ballot:

Everything Texas has submitted as affirmative evidence is unpersuasive, invalid, or both. Moreover, uncontested record evidence conclusively shows that the implicit costs of obtaining SB 14-qualifying ID will fall most heavily on the poor and that a disproportionately high percentage of African Americans and Hispanics in Texas live in poverty. We therefore conclude that SB 14 is likely to lead to “retrogression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise.”

The state attorney general already says he’ll appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Here’s the fun fact that makes it difficult to argue that this law won’t unfairly impact the poor:

About 80 Texas counties have no DPS driver’s license office, which could make it difficult for Texans without a driver’s license to get a Voter ID card. Low income neighborhoods in metro areas also have few DPS offices.

So nearly a third of the state’s counties don’t have a place where voters could obtain this ID? How can we then reasonably expect all eligible voters to fulfill this requirement? Passports are expensive.


  • Tom

    AG Abbott also said that other states passed laws, so that’s why Texas should have one. Yet those states provide better basic services and greater access to ID cards. Ah, limited government.

  • Kurt Watkins

    Great post, Jason. Thanks for the info. Will see how this all plays out. I can only imagine how upset AG Abbott is…

  • You know why those places don’t have DPS offices? They also don’t have people. They are the places with extremely low population density.

    I am entirely and completely unsympathetic. I find is absolutely lacking in credibility that someone can live in a low-population density area and NOT have a drivers license, or access to someone with a license that can carry them to a DPS office. It defies logic.

    Yes, voting is a right. So is bearing arms. If you have to show ID to buy a gun, you should have to show ID to vote. Each is as dangerous as the other.

  • Borborygmus

    You have to see it from their point of view. They are just trying to keep their jobs.

  • No, Phelps. Voting is the foundation of a democratic republic. It should be as easy and accessible and encouraged as possible. It’s the most important right we have. (Let’s not even get into the “smaller government” and “individuals shouldn’t be required to participate in any system” arguments that conservatives like to apply to most issues except this one.) This is not an problem anyone was complaining about, and it’s dishonest to say that the people pushing these laws are doing it for any other reason than the fact that their side’s pollsters think this will increase the chances of victory in November.

  • FabFranTX

    “About 80 Texas counties have no DPS driver’s license office, which could make it difficult for Texans without a driver’s license to get a Voter ID card. Low income neighborhoods in metro areas also have few DPS offices.”

    So NO ONE drives in any of those 80 counties? Ridiculous! And the people who live in “low income neighborhoods in metro areas” don’t have licenses either? No…they need a license to drive, cash a check, get a job, pick up their child from school, etc so they HAVE them and can OBTAIN them! Doesn’t this set a precedent to strike down or nix the requirements for all the other instances/places where I HAVE to show a photo ID?

  • David

    @Michael J. Mooney,

    Let me correct your civics ignorance. The Constitution, not voting*, is the foundation of our democratic republic. Voting is the currency with which we bid for and secure our leaders and issues within that constitutional framework. Counterfeit voting currency not only cancels the legitimate opposing bids of others, it – even its possibility – cynically inflates the total voting currency until that currency is regarded as worthless, in which case alternate currencies like dollars, quid pro quos, extortion, or, ultimately, violence are relied upon instead.

    Frankly, I’m on your side, Michael: the alternatives to scrupulous voting integrity are far easier to deploy.

    *voting is the foundation of the D Magazine Best Of features republic, however

  • @Phelps: Living in a densely-populated area, having a car, having the ability to drive a car, having friends or family with a car, having enough money to pay a taxi or a bus to take you outside the county, having access to public transportation, owning a gun, or watching Fox News – none of these are requirements under our constitution to be an eligible voter.

    You may want as few people as possible to be able to vote, but that’s not the country we live in. Not yet, anyway.

  • Peterk

    ‘About 80 Texas counties have no DPS driver’s license office, which could make it difficult for Texans without a driver’s license to get a Voter ID card. Low income neighborhoods in metro areas also have few DPS offices.”

    okay some questions
    1. a list of the 80 counties
    2. how do the folks in those counties get a drivers license if there isn’t a DPS office in those counties?
    3. How far is each of those counties from a DPS office
    4. for the metropolitan areas how come the folks who run voter registration drives or the churches gather up the folks without a photo id and take them down to the closest DPS office
    5. for those individuals who don’t have a photo id can they vote absentee?
    6. what is the population for each of the counties that does not have a DPS office?
    7. for each of those counties how many people of voting age already have a drivers license and are registered to vote?

  • Peterk

    “Passports are expensive.” yup but how many of the folks who live in counties along the Texas/Mexico border have one so that they can legally cross the border?

  • Vseslav Botkin

    It really seems to anger some right-wingers that there are hundreds of thousands–maybe even millions–of adult American citizens who happily go about their lives without having a valid photo ID. Mention this fact and they refuse to believe it.

  • Bob

    And so we pivot from protecting the integrity of the vote to protecting the integrity of the border. Amazing! Surely there is some way you can work in attacks on gay marriage and abortion to bolster your arguments.

    Two thoughts: One, what is the evidence that people are voting under assumed identities, and how widespread is this problem? No generalizations, please–just show us the evidence that this is happening. No evidence was produced in the legislative process, so maybe voter impersonation just isn’t happening.

    Two, show us how this voter ID law will stop whatever voter fraud you have discovered. The sponsoring legislators have admitted that, if voter fraud is indeed a problem, this new law will not prevent it.

    Yes, there are problems with voter integrity–voter fraud. But this law doesn’t fix those problems. It only fixes the problems caused by poor and vulnerable people voting, because we all know who those poor and vulnerable people vote for, and it ain’t Republicans/

  • @PeterK: You ask for the specifics of which counties and how many people within those counties are disenfranchised by the voter ID law. By these questions, I think you’re suggesting that our concern is silly because relatively few would be affected.

    I don’t have the numbers you’re looking for right now, but I’m willing to bet those numbers are bigger than the tiny number of fraudulent votes cast across the entire nation in the last decade due to cases of assumed identity.

    Look, I’m not even a person 100% dead-set against voter ID laws, if we must. But the requirements should be as easy and inexpensive to fulfill as it is now to register and to cast a ballot.

  • Mark

    Mike, it’s interesting that you mention (dis)honesty in your comment.

    The issue of disenfranchisement with regard to voter ID is intellectually dishonest. Compared to an 80-year-old in South Dallas I’m disenfranchised because nobody fills out and mails my voter registration for me and I have to drive myself to the polls.

    One typically has to physically appear at a DPS office only once every 12 years to maintain a valid driver’s license and I expect it would be the same for an ID card. This burden is vanishingly small.

    It is certainly true that the people pushing for voter ID are doing so because they think it will benefit them politically. The people pushing for the repeal of the poll tax in the middle of the last century did so for the same reason. That didn’t make it wrong.

    Elections have been error-prone and corrupt since the beginning of time. Technology is hopefully helping to reduce the mistakes and the corruption, and I don’t think you can rationally argue that requiring a valid ID to vote fails to move the ball toward cleaner elections.

    And before you assume I have an ideological dog in this fight, please know that I typically vote in the Democratic primary.

  • Joy

    Some republicans have a hard time imagining what it’s like to be poor, jobless, disabled or elderly. We need more empathy in our society.

  • The disenfranchisement is real. There are a lot of people who could legally vote before, who (because they don’t meet the burdens you require) won’t be able to vote now. The exact numbers are up for debate, as are the number of people committing voter fraud, but nobody is suggesting there is more fraud than there are voters without IDs. If it’s the integrity of the voting currency we’re worried about (and were we worried before Karl Rove told us to be?), I have a solution for that.

    New sentence for committing voter fraud: 35 years in prison, no chance of parole. Non-problem solved. I suspect this will be considerably less expensive than paying for tens of thousands of IDs.

  • Mark

    “There are a lot of people who could legally vote before, who…won’t be able to vote now.”

    Come on, man, that’s silly. Please construct a scenario where a person capable of voting isn’t capable of making a trip to the DPS office every 12 years.

    I do, however, wholeheartedly agree with your solution of making the punishment so severe as to deter the act. I’ve long said that if society really wanted to eliminate drunk driving we could do so quite easily by making it a one-and-done offense.

    And with regard to your Karl Rove crack, some of us were concerned/disappointed/whatever regarding this issue probably before you were born.

  • Joy

    The trump card in this argument is that we don’t have a widespread voter fraud problem. One problem we do have is republicans who worry about losing votes from voters who are minorities, poor, young, elderly or disabled.

  • Dani K.

    Mooney is such a bleeding heart. I love it.

  • Mike

    By Jason’s logic (for lack of a better word) credit card companies and stores that require id when you make a purchase want you to shop less, since that would mean reduced revenue for them i’m pretty sure that’s not the case. We should try an experiment to see who’s right, tell a group of people that they have to drive an hour to the dmv and wait in line a couple of hours to get an id to vote and listen to the moans and groans and cries of disenfranchisement. Then, a few days later, tell that same group of people that they have to drive an hour to Wal Mart and stand in line for a couple of hours to get a free iPad and watch them trample each other in their stampede to get to Wal Mart. Anyway, this is all bs and everyone knows it, just one more example that anybody who actually tries to live right and follow the rules is just a sucker who’s getting screwed.

  • ELH

    I feel compelled to point out that DPS offices are woefully understaffed for their current business, people employed in hourly positions rarely have the luxury of taking 4 to 6 hours out of their work day to spend in line at a DPS office which is open only 9-4 or 5 depending on location. This is compounded if getting to said office is an issue in the first place. Those of you who would argue with the time requirement can feel free to go stand in line themselves, I had to make two separate visits to DPS recently, I made the first at 12pm on a Friday where I stood in a 20 min. long line to be told no more numbers were being given out because the current line would take them past their 5pm closing. The second visit on a Monday I arrived 15 min. before the doors opened and there was a line wrapping around the building. 4 hours later I was able to change my last name with the state of Texas, something that took a total of 20 min. at the Social Security office.

  • critic

    Why not issue an illegal immigrant voter card to anyone who wants to vote. Just pick one up at the post office , Western Union, or wherever one obtains money orders to Mexico. Isn’t that what Democrats really want anyway?

  • @Mike: I use my credit card for pretty much every purchase I make (cash doesn’t earn rewards points). You know how often I’m asked for my ID? Maybe once a year. I suspect the stores and the credit card companies discovered that the cost of the solution outweighed the cost of the problem.

    The government may discover the same thing.

    I think Texas is going to need to build a system by which each county government is authorized and able to issue voter photo IDs to those without driver’s licenses. But it’s going to cost money. Are we willing to pay a bit more in taxes to safeguard the threat to democracy posed by voter fraud?

  • Dubious Brother

    @Joy – “One problem we do have is republicans who worry about losing votes from voters who are minorities, poor, young, elderly or disabled.”

    You are joking, right?

  • Joy

    @Dubious Brother To clarify, voters who currently lack photo ID tend to be poor, non-white, young, etc. These groups tend to vote for Democrats. Ahem, we have motive.

  • PeterK

    “he tiny number of fraudulent votes cast across the entire nation”
    Jason it’s not the number of fraudulent votes but where those votes are cast. Fraudulent votes are most important where the election is close. there were several elections in Texas recently where the elections ended in a tie. or how about what happened in Minnesota?
    “When 1,099 felons vote in race won by 312 ballots”

    “You ask for the specifics of which counties and how many people within those counties are disenfranchised by the voter ID law. By these questions, I think you’re suggesting that our concern is silly because relatively few would be affected.”
    nope all numbers best understood in context. you said 80 counties don’t have a DPS office, the key is where are those counties, what is the population, how far are the people from an office. I’m not saying your concern is silly i’m just saying put it in context. gives us the full complete picture
    Now recently I was called for Jury Duty in Richmond Va. a duty as important as voting, but guess what? I had to bring a photo id with me when I showed up otherwise I couldn’t serve? Why have a photo id for jury duty? well to prove you are the individual who was summoned.
    I agree that it should be easy to get a photo id. why couldn’t the folks who run voter registration drives ask each individual they register if they have a photo id and if the answer is no then they could say step over there and we’ll help you get one at no cost. or maybe the churches could donate their buses to transport those without photo ids to a DPS to get a photo id. Better yet expand what photo ids are eligible to be used when voting.
    even Jimmy Carter called for the use of photo ids

  • PeterK

    voter fraud in New Mexico

    Jason wrote “You know how often I’m asked for my ID?” so you don’t travel on airplanes? what about when you purchase certain OTC drugs? how about when you attend an Obama event

    or a speech by Eric Holder?

    or show a photo id to enter a government builidng

    and finally if it so onerous to get a photo id for voting then it is really onerous to get one to drive or cash a check.

  • @PeterK: My comment about having my ID checked applied only to Mike’s analogy about using credit cards.

    As for the number of cases of in-person voter impersonation, which is what these laws are supposedly responding to., here’s one recent study. 10 confirmed cases nationwide since 2000. 10.


  • David

    In the absence of photo ID to validate the voter’s identity, how can we say with such confidence that we know there have been negligible cases of voter ID fraud which would have been caught using photo ID?

    Because we use methods at the point of voting that are better at validating identity than a photograph? Fingerprints, maybe? DNA? Really?

    Okay, maybe not better than, ten, but just as good as a photograph at establishing identity on the spot. So what are they? Maybe I just haven’t heard of them. The non-photo equivalent of photo ID to establish the identity of the voter, on the spot, at the time of voting.

    So what is it? Must be easy to name; it’s been used to establish without question that voter identity fraud is virtually non-existent.

    So what is this miracle method, as good as or better than a photo? Maybe we can use it more extensively, beyond just voting.

  • @David: So we should pass laws to attempt to prevent crimes that we have no evidence of occurring? GOP lawmakers just feel like voter impersonation must be going on on a massive scale, so it must be?

    I believe in evidence-based, not faith-based legislation.

  • Avid Reader

    @Jason Heid, How many voter fraud cases would you consider “enough”. Plenty of evidence, plenty of cases (acorn ring a bell?), but what do you consider not an acceptable level of voter fraud? If someone took your vote away, would you care then? Since you can’t get a job without a photo id, does that mean obtaining employment is also an “undue burden” on the “disenfranchised”?

  • @Avid Reader: Where’s your evidence of voter impersonation fraud, the only type of voter fraud that these ID laws are supposedly designed to prevent?

    You bring up Acorn, but that controversy has absolutely nothing to do with voter ID. You can’t conflate all types of fraud when voter ID would do nothing for the most common types.

    And you don’t have to have a government-issued photo ID, or an photo ID at all, to get a job. The I-9 form says having a voter’s registration card and a Social Security card (for instance) are acceptable.

  • David

    @Jason Heid,

    So you’re not able to answer my question? That’s okay. I think if the claim that voter ID fraud was verifiably minimal had any basis it would be easy to answer, but it looks like there is no such basis.

    But, yes, we should pass laws to prevent crimes from ever occurring in the first place, even if none have yet to occur, particularly with respect to something as fundamentally important as voting, and even more so when the “burden” is as innocuous as a photograph, now that we’re already well into the second decade of the 21st Century. As others have noted, photography has proved to offer useful, cheap, easy to implement and administer security identification benefits in thousands of applications and is in widely accepted use today. Enormous preventative value at negligible cost and burden.

    I don’t see how your ideological dog whistle “faith-based legislation” has any relevancy here, but feel free to high-five any around you who think you knocked one out of the park with it, whatever it was supposed to highlight.

  • @David: You’re completely wrong about it being a “negligible cost and burden.”

    Here’s the recent Brennan Center study of 10 states that have passed these laws:

    “More than 1 million eligible voters in these states fall below the federal poverty line and live more than 10 miles from their nearest ID-issuing office open more than two days a week. These voters may be particularly affected by the significant costs of the documentation required to obtain a photo ID. Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. Marriage licenses, required for married women whose birth certificates include a maiden name, can cost between $8 and $20. By comparison, the notorious poll tax – outlawed during the civil rights era – cost $10.64 in current dollars.

    The result is plain: Voter ID laws will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of poor Americans to vote. They place a serious burden on a core constitutional right that should be universally available to every American citizen.

    This November, restrictive voter ID states will provide 127 electoral votes – nearly half of the 270 needed to win the presidency. Therefore, the ability of eligible citizens without photo ID to obtain one could have a major influence on the outcome of the 2012 election.”

    You want me to support voter ID as currently established and prevent thousands of people from voting just because you think there’s a lot of voter impersonation going on. You may be right, but I need proof. Not your blind faith that it is.

    As I said before, I’m not dead-set against requiring photos on our registration cards, but Texas has to make it a reasonable burden for eligible voters. It hasn’t.

  • David

    @Jason Heid,

    The Brennan “study” you cite is risible nonsense. Name which of the “1 million eligible voters” do not already have photo ID. Name which ones who don’t already have it actually can’t – not would rather not, I would rather not have to drive to the polls or fill out an absentee ballot; can’t – afford the minimal costs, if any, to get them; and, remember almost all of those 10 states collected in your “study” provide free ID to those needing them. Any states providing free ID immediately render the premises of the “study” and thus its overall conclusions invalid.

    The result is not plain. The “hundred of thousands of poor Americans” is a number you made up out of thin air just now based on nothing more than suggestively mashing some abstract statistics together without any attempt at verification or even any critical analysis. The only thing you’ve done here is used the patently absurd claims you’ve quoted above to insert another ideological dog whistle, that photo ID is like a racist “poll tax”. Sorry, Jason, the harder you try, the less rational your claims turn out to be when actually examined. Support whatever you want to support for whatever psychologically driving reasons that drive you, but don’t try to use easily shredable silliness like you’ve offered above here as anything remotely approaching objective proof.

  • @David: Allow me to sum up the Brennan quotation from above: “free ids” are not actually free.

    This will be my last comment to you. Since you are rejecting all information antithetical to your beliefs, and since you offer no proof of your own, there’s nothing more to discuss.

  • Avid Reader

    @Jason Heid, I will actually respond to all of your questions/thoughts even though you chose not to answser my questions.

    Part of my evidence for voter impersonation fraud is your own linked article as even just those 10 examples are too many. Others have given you links, since you clearly ignored them, me rehashing those and adding more will not make you look anyways.

    I sure did bring up Acorn, not sure how you avoid the massive voter registration fraud they perpetuated. Your claim that it is not relevant is laughable. Since Acorn would register anyone to vote, Mickey Mouse, anyone can get a voter registration card and then go vote with out an ID.

    You are correct that a Voter Registration card and SS card will suffice to be employed. Maybe we should start protesting this since you don’t need an ID to get a voter registration card. While an employer can/will find out if the information provided is false and fire said employee, in a voting situation the damage has already been done.

    Also, your opinion that Voter ID laws make it “harder for hundreds of thousands of poor Americans to vote” has been proved to be utter nonsense by no less than the Supreme Court. In the case even the staunchly conservative Justice Stevens wrote that the hassle of making a trip to the DMV and posing for a free-from-state photo ID (free to those in need in all voter id laws you mentioned above) does not qualify as a substantial burden.

    Here are the questions I posed to you earlier that were ignored. How many voter fraud cases would you consider “enough”. Plenty of evidence, plenty of cases (acorn ring a bell?), but what do you consider not an acceptable level of voter fraud? If someone took your vote away, would you care then?

  • Vseslav Botkin

    1. Voter registration fraud is not vote fraud.
    2. This notion that someone is going to crisscross the city pretending to be someone they aren’t, committing a pretty serious felony despite having no idea if their additional vote will have any effect on the outcome of an election is ridiculous. It’s utterly ridiculous.
    3. If the 10 nationwide cases of voter impersonation merit preventive legislation on top of the extant criminal penalties, what laws and restrictions do you support for the types of election fraud that happen with much greater frequency and that voter ID restrictions do not address?
    4. If you’re really concerned about voter impersonation, not only are you a bit kooky, but you should support a more sensical solution, like indelible ink, fingerprints, something that doesn’t require spending hundreds of thousands of dollars providing people who otherwise don’t need or want them with photo IDs.

  • @Avid Reader: You make a decent point about Acorn. I apologize. Except that Mickey Mouse never actually got registered to vote, and proof is lacking that the few Acorn offices where workers were faking registrations were successful in actually getting the voters registered (or even that they were aiming to. The Acorn fraud seems mostly to have been driven by quotas for their registration workers.) There are other safeguards to keep non-existent voters out.

    But sure, there are bound to be systemic failures. How many proven cases of voter impersonation would I have to see before I’d be willing to let the government cast aside thousands of voters? Certainly more than 10 (and I understand that you disagree with me on that point.) But how many?

    It’d have to be more than the hundreds of thousands of voters nationwide unfairly affected by these voter ID laws. And here’s why I use that number, and yes, I disagree with what you cite the Supreme Court as saying. Again, from the Brennan study :

    “Nearly 500,000 eligible voters do not have access to a vehicle and live more than 10 miles from the nearest state ID-issuing office open more than two days a week. Many of them live in rural areas with dwindling public transportation options.

    More than 10 million eligible voters live more than 10 miles from their nearest state ID-issuing office open more than two days a week.

    1.2 million eligible black voters and 500,000 eligible Hispanic voters live more than 10 miles from their nearest ID-issuing office open more than two days a week. People of color are more likely to be disenfranchised by these laws since they are less likely to have photo ID than the general population.

    Many ID-issuing offices maintain limited business hours. For example, the office in Sauk City, Wisconsin is open only on the fifth Wednesday of any month. But only four months in 2012 – February, May, August, and October – have five Wednesdays. In other states – Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas – many part-time ID-issuing offices are in the rural regions with the highest concentrations of people of color and people in poverty.”

    So that’s why I consider “hundreds of thousands” to be a rather conservative estimate.

    Certainly there’s an amount of voter impersonation fraud that I would find untenable and would be willing to admit that the cost-benefit would tip towards the ID laws recently passed. The 10 confirmed cases since 2000 represent one out of every 15 million prospective voters. That’s a tiny percentage, of course.

    Let’s say voter fraud had been shown for even 0.5% of those voters, across any decade of voting. So 75,000? Maybe that still seems too high. Even just 7,500 in any year or two? Sure, that’d get my attention, I guess. But we’ve got a long way to go from 10.

    Again I want to emphasize, I will accept voter ID when the state of Texas gets it act together. The technology exists to make verifiable ID issuance something everything county could handle, but it’s going to cost money. Those “free” IDs are expensive to the state too.

  • Avid Reader

    @Jason Heid, You disagree with the liberal Supreme Court Justice saying the hardship argument is nonsense, and I disagree with the liberal Open Society sponsored Brennan Center’s study saying the opposite. Agree to disagree.

  • Mimi

    Sloppy reporting. You have to click through the regions, but I counted 240 counties with at least one DPS office at http://www.texasadultdriver.com/texas-DPS-location.aspx. That leaves FOURTEEN counties without one. You wanna bet those aren’t the counties that have all those minorities? Keep up your liberal propaganda; those without thinking ability are likely to fall for it.

  • @Mimi: Thanks for the comment. Update here.