Federal Judge Lays Out Framework to Fix Texas' Discriminatory Voter ID Law

Federal Judge Lays Out Framework to Fix Texas' Discriminatory Voter ID Law
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The Corpus Christi federal judge who ruled that Texas' voter ID law discriminated against black and brown voters says the law will stay in place for November elections, but with a few caveats.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos issued an order to the state Thursday, one day after the federal Fifth Circuit appeals court called the voter ID requirements in Senate Bill 14 a violation of the Voting Rights Act. The Fifth Circuit kicked the case back to Ramos, who scheduled an August 17 hearing to work out how to fix the discriminatory voter ID law. The Fifth Circuit ordered Ramos to make sure the law is not discriminatory against black and brown voters by the November 8 election.

Any plan submitted to Ramos by the state or its challengers, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, must include that basic framework she laid out in her scheduling order. Anyone who has an eligible ID under 2011 law, which requires state-issued photo identification to cast a vote, or has the ability to obtain it before the November 8 election must display it to vote. Additionally, easily counterfeited IDs, like a college identification card, cannot replace eligible photo identification as laid out by Senate Bill 14. However, there is an exception for the indigent. Any plan to fix the law must allow people who can't get one of the seven state-sanctioned IDS to use voter registration cards. In Wisconsin, which has a similar discriminatory voter ID law, a federal judge ruled that voters without photo ID can sign an affidavit, swearing they are who they say they are.

The state's also going to have to launch a "meaningful" public education campaign explaining Senate Bill 14's identification requirements, exceptions to those requirements in the original law and about the interim plan that the court will adopt. Additionally, the state has to educate and train poll workers so they fully understand the interim plan.

In the meantime, Ramos says she is going to reweigh all the evidence in the case to determine whether the Texas Legislature passed the law knowing it would it would have a discriminatory impact on black and brown voters. The Fifth Circuit's opinion tip-toed around around flat-out calling the law racist, ordering Ramos to wade through whether legislators took extraordinary steps in 2011 when they got the law on the books.

Incidentally, Ramos already did that in a 2014 trial ruling that said the law was a poll tax that was intentionally passed to marginalize minority voters. Ramos found that Texas legislators ignored a flood of warnings from opponents that the law would disenfranchise poor and minority voters. She pointed out that voter fraud wasn't even a problem in Texas. Ramos also honed in on Texas' long, twisted history of suppressing the minority vote in the state through gerrymandering, poll taxes, all white primaries and secret ballots.


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