Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Texas Officials Ignoring Courts on Voter ID

Texas leaders apparently figured they could get away with ignoring Federal Court rulings about their voting procedures. Ignoring as in violating. For a couple of months now, they’ve been publicizing false claims about the State’s Voter ID requirements for the November election. On Tuesday Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos slapped them down hard. She’s indicated anger in previous rulings on voting procedures, but as Ian Millhiser at Think Progress notes, this time “she’s pissed.” Consequently, she dished out some specific instructions about what officials must do immediately.

At some point, you’d think maybe the prospect of a bit of jail time might be used to rattle the teeth of these vote suppressors. But that’s not something in Ramos’ bailiwick.

When the Supreme Court made mincemeat out of a key element of the Voting Rights Act back in 2013 in the Shelby ruling, you could almost feel the smiles of Texas officials determined to make it harder for certain cohorts of American citizens to vote. Citizens of color. Older citizens. Low-income citizens.

About five minutes after the Court announced its decision, Texas had implemented the changes that the Justice Department had rejected. That generated DOJ litigation that blocked the Texas law again. This July, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Judge Ramos’ ruling that the ID law violated the Voting Rights Act, and it sent the case back to her for a further review. She then ordered that Texas spend $2.5 million educating citizens of the less restrictive requirements for Voter ID ordered by the Circuit Court.

But early this month, in a legal filing, the DOJ said the State was violating that order by spending limited amounts of money in a misleading education process. Namely, voters were being told the strict rules still applied. And that could mean many people with legally okay ID wouldn’t even bother to try to vote. In fact, they can if they can show that there was a “reasonable impediment” for why they don’t have the proper ID. They wouldn’t know that from reading the “educational” material election officials were disseminating.

Judge Ramos’ original order was milder than the one she issued Tuesday. The key element of the latest one—Texas officials:

...shall edit digital materials on its website page(s) that address voting rights and procedures, including titles or headlines and FAQs to reflect that voters who “do not possess an acceptable form of photo identification and cannot obtain one due to a reasonable impediment” may vote after signing the Reasonable Impediment Declaration.

One part of her order must have those officials bleeding through their gums. Not only must they correct all the misleading material they have produced: leaflets, polling place posters, and on the State’s Voter website, they also must allow plaintiffs in the case to review changes made to voter materials before they are published. As Election Law Blog proprietor Rick Hasen notes, this is “a type of preclearance.”

We will see whether Texas authorities will once again find a way to flip off the Federal Courts over this.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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