Legal Challenges to Voter-ID Laws: Too Little, Too Late?

A federal court overturned Texas' strict voter-ID law, but plenty of similar laws that discourage minority voting will still be in place come Election Day

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Jeremy Long / Lebanon Daily News / AP

A voter shows his ID card in Cornwall, Pa., for the primary election on April 24, 2012. The primary was also a test run for the new Pennsylvania voter-ID law

In this year’s heated battle over voter-ID laws, the critics have scored a big victory: a federal court overturned Texas’ strict new ID law last week. It is not hard to see why. The state law was a combination of a poll tax and a logistical nightmare. But critics of voter-ID laws should not get too excited. Courts are still far too willing to approve these laws, and there will be plenty of them in place on Election Day on Nov. 6.

Texas’ law, which was enacted last year, would have been the nation’s strictest. (It could yet return; Texas says it will appeal the ruling blocking it.) It required voters to present one of an approved list of photo IDs in order to vote. There was a certain slant to the list: gun permits counted; student IDs did not. The law would have made at least 600,000 voters without valid ID ineligible to vote, according to the Justice Department, and it hit minorities hardest. Hispanic voters in Texas are at least 46.5% and perhaps 120% more likely than non-Hispanics to lack a photo ID.

For voters without ID, the state law made many people pay to vote, the way poll taxes once did. To get the necessary ID, voters had to present documents like a birth certificate, which can cost $22 or more. With 2 in 5 households living paycheck to paycheck, the law forced some people to make a choice between putting food on the table or a ballot in the ballot box.

(PHOTOS: Scenes from Voting Day)

Then there was the physical inconvenience. Voters were supposed to go to a driver’s-license office to get their ID, but 81 of Texas’ 254 counties do not have a working driver’s-license office. As a result, some voters had to travel up to 250 miles if they wanted to vote.

Supporters of the law made the usual argument that they just wanted to prevent voter fraud. But there are almost no cases of people impersonating other people at the polls — in Texas or anywhere else. One study found that voter fraud occurs in about 0.00004% of votes or less — about as often as Americans are struck by lightning.

The driving force behind voter-ID laws is actually the desire to suppress turnout, particularly minority turnout — as it was with the Florida law that made it harder for groups to register new voters and Ohio’s recent edict stopping early voting for most voters. (The Florida and Ohio laws were also struck down last week.) Not surprisingly, there is evidence that voter-ID laws do keep eligible voters away from the polls. A 2008 study in Indiana found that 7% of eligible voters who did not vote cited lack of the correct form of ID as one of the reasons.

The special three-judge court that struck down the Texas law did not get into anyone’s motives. It just made a point of simple logic. The Voting Rights Act prevents states from passing laws diminishing minority voting rights. Texas’ law made it harder for poor people to vote. And Hispanic voters in Texas are poorer than non-Hispanic whites.

(MORE: How to Solve the Voter-ID Debate)

The ruling is good news, but of a limited sort. The law was struck down because Texas is one of only 16 states that are covered, in whole or in part, by this part of the Voting Rights Act. Thirty-four states, and large parts of another seven, are not covered by the act, so in most of the country, the arguments that persuaded the court would not apply. On the broader question of whether unduly harsh voter-ID laws violate the Constitution, the Supreme Court has been of no help. In 2008, in Crawford v. Marion County, it upheld Indiana’s law, which requires a photo ID. That ruling has given an unfortunate green light to other states to pass strict ID laws.

There are still two major challenges to voter-ID laws working their way through the courts. Pennsylvania’s ID law was upheld last month, but the ruling is on appeal. South Carolina’s law is in federal court, being challenged under the Voting Rights Act. But however those cases come out, roughly two-thirds of the states will likely have a voter-ID law on Election Day.

If there were a lot of voter fraud going on, the case for voter-ID laws would be stronger, and even many opponents might be persuaded to support them — particularly if the laws made it easy and free to get ID. But when this fraud happens with lightning-fatality frequency and the laws put up sizable obstacles to voting, it is hard to view them as anything but vote-suppression laws. They should not be passed, and if they are, courts should strike them down.

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Julie Horsford Butler
Julie Horsford Butler

WOW! TIME has really lowered their journalistic standards! Perhaps you should check your facts before you go to press.  You swallowed DOJ's completely erroneous statistics hook, line and sinker. Here are the REAL facts.

Evidence presented at trial by the State of Texas shows that Attorney General Holder’s list of voters who lack government-issued photo identification is fatally flawed because DOJ’s list includes dead voters, failed to exclude non-Texas residents, and did not attempt to match voters with photo ID databases maintained by the federal government—such as the State Department’s passport database or the Department of Defense’s military identification database.

DOJ’s List of Voters Who Lack Photo Identification Includes:

50,000 Dead Voters1

330,377 Voters over the age of 65 (who can vote by mail without ID)

261,887 Voters who included a DL number on their voter registration form.

800,000 Voters successfully matched by the State

Countless Voters who actually have a government-issued photo ID—but who were improperly included on the DOJ’s no-identification list, including:

-    Director of Elections Keith Ingram—not once, but twice.

-    U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison

-    Former U.S. Senator Phil Gramm

-    State Senator Leticia Van de Putte

-    State Representative Aaron Peña

-    Former President George W. Bush

-    Licia Ellis, the wife of State Senator Rodney Ellis

DOJ’s List of ‘No-Identification’ Voters Failed to Exclude:

-    Dead Voters

-    Voters who have passports and military IDs

-    Former Texas residents who have moved to other states

-    Exempt voters who have been certified disabled by the federal agencies

-    Non-citizens who are improperly registered to vote

A University of Texas professor retained by the State conducted a telephone survey that sampled actual Texans on the DOJ’s no-identification list—and found that more than 90% reported having a government-issued photo ID:

90% of whites on the DOJ’s no-identification list have a photo ID

93% of blacks on the DOJ’s no-identification list have a photo ID

92% of Hispanics on the DOJ’s no-identification list have a photo ID

And finally, the Texas Department of Public Safety offers a photo ID available at any DPS office in the State. The cost is $16 for individuals ages 18-59, and is valid for SIX years. That works out to $0.22 per month. Individuals 60 years and older pay $6 and their ID does not expire. If they live to be 80, that works out to $0.30 per year amortized over the rest of their lives.

DOJ was only able to present ONE witness who claimed she would be disenfranchised if she had to produce a photo ID in order to vote. She can't scrape together $16 or find a ride to the local DPS office, but she somehow made it from San Antonio to Washington, DC, in order to testify.

Come on, people! Where is COMMON SENSE???

frankblank
frankblank

No one has found any need or factual justification for these laws.  Their only purpose is voter suppression.  Those making them are traitors and should be handled as such.  

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Sheepleherder
Sheepleherder

You would think that, regardless of party, the privilege and right to vote should be more important than the ability to buy an alcoholic drink or a cigarette. The poor and the minority have no problem doing either of the latter, which requires a picture ID, but for some reason they will have a problem providing an ID in order to vote?? Perhaps they need to take voting more seriously than they do facilitating their vices. Or, more to the point, perhaps the people who cynically use this non-issue as a basis to further agitate their constituents, should just be more honest about their motives.

Lar5
Lar5

Why all the long statements? It’s really very simple. The GOP wants to cut down or eliminate as much of the black. Latino and other minority votes as possible, These laws have all been passed in states with Republican governors. It is a return to the literacy tests and poll taxes of a bygone era. Period. This is the last gasp of the republican white man’s party to remain in power for a few more years.

Kimsbenn
Kimsbenn

I'm tired of people complaining and activists arguing and my government fighting against having a valid photo ID to vote. In my state every citizen has to produce 5 forms verifying who they are and where they live to obtain a federal drivers license. Where are all these people to take up the cause for us. It costs the same amount of money for the same minorities to get a license. So shut up already about voter ID unless you are also willing to help all those across the nation get rid of these same stifling rules. It's obvious those fighting against do so because they want the vote of the same group they must not car how they drive to work. Same ID requirements but one is unconstitutional and the other isn't?

LegalBagel
LegalBagel

The left tries to do everything it can to obscure the link of a vote to a real person.  It makes stuffing the ballot box in recounts much easier.

Catskinner
Catskinner

Voter ID is to discourage fraud.  It had nothing to do with discouraging minority voters.  If we cannot ensure honest elections, everything goes down the toilet, and probably should.

Nazonohito
Nazonohito

"There was a certain slant to the list: gun permits counted; student IDs did not."

There is a certain slant to this article!

Gun permits count because they are government-issued IDs and to obtain one you must prove both your identity and your eligibility to possess a firearm (non-felon, citizen or legal resident). School IDs are not government issued and do not have any standards for verification or vetting.

Are you seriously so biased that you fail to recognize such a distinction? If you have that much difficulty in parsing the nuances of statutory law, I have serious concerns about the level of "education" being provided to the students of Yale Law School.

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The Democrats are making it out to be something that it isn't.  And

that's because most of the illegal voters vote Democrat.  So thanks,

Democrats, it's so American of you to try to throw elections your way.

StJohnny
StJohnny

A driver license (state id ) to vote is not a problem for anyone who should be voting.

 I have always shown my license every time I vote. Why is this an issue in America, at all.

Even extremest know this is non sense.

keystnst
keystnst

What dream world do you live in?  You think everyone of voting age in this country has or can afford to own a car?  There are plenty of young people in school that can't afford a car right now. The elderly, that have been voting for decades, that never owned a vehicle or today are too old to drive I guess should be forgotten.

The incedence of voter fraud is so miniscule that it is an embaresment to the GOP to even try this.  But I hope they keep showing their true colors and maybe they can get the student and elderly percent of the electorate to the same level of  support as the Black community.......ZERO!

GoldenGir1
GoldenGir1

"Then there is the physical inconvenience. Voters are supposed to go to

driver’s-license offices to get their ID, but 81 of Texas’ 254 counties

do not have working driver’s-license offices. As a result, some voters

have to travel up to 250 miles if they want to vote."

I am confused... so they can drive yet they don't have a driver's license? What's going on?

Also, the reason that we don't have voter fraud or issues is because no one ever checks for the IDs - and therefore the problems are never 'discovered'.

I don't see what's wrong with requiring someone's proof of citizenship of this country in order to vote.

LegalBagel
LegalBagel

When I went to register to vote in uber-Republican NEW YORK CITY in 2006, I had to present proof of residence, identity and citizenship.  At the polls, I have had to look at the list of voters in the area to find my name and then I only have had to sign next to my own signature to prove I am me (very silly).  I always try to show my ID and the poll worker always says it isn't necessary.  I would prefer showing ID at registration and at the polls, in order to prove that it is me casting MY vote.  It ensures the integrity of the system, a system that is known to have a lack of integrity at times (anyone ever hear of the magically appearing bags of ballots in King County, Washington that got Gov. Gregoire (D) elected?).....  We have the technology to make photo IDs that are cheap and reliable, as well as voting systems that are much more tamper-proof than those used in many places.  I would think everyone should support the notion of one citizen/one vote.

wasklywabbit
wasklywabbit

 You have to be kidding. You interpret "They have to travel" to be they can drive? Imagine if you will, some elderly person who doesn't drive, who doesn't own a car, being required to get a drivers license or a state photo ID in order to vote. When they look for a local source they find it may be 250 miles away.

This is what the Republicans want, to make it as difficult as possible to keep the disadvantaged away from the polls. They know full well that people who were NOT born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouths are not going to vote the Republican way.

frankblank
frankblank

Someone who thinks that "travel" = "drive" is someone with the perfect mental equipment needed to support this spate of  Voter Suppression laws.

The sad and scary thing is that so many Americans have that equipment. Who built that? They built that.

wandmdave
wandmdave

Its ok.  The republican party is just digging their long term grave.  These gimmicks may have some short term effect but long term they do nothing to stem the demographic shift that is tilting the scales in favor of the Dems.  What the do succeed in doing long term is turning away moderate and independent voters who find these machiavellian tactics abhorrent, this moderate included.

wasklywabbit
wasklywabbit

I'd be a whole lot more interested in solving the fraudulent voting problem if the cases amounted to at least the same number of cases of "family value" Congressional Republican sex offender cases.

Just my opinion. LOL

Gwen Young
Gwen Young

It's gratifiing to see these laws get challenged.  I thought that we were all covered under the voting rights act.  Clearly some uniformity and clarity needs to exist for all voters on the federal level. This has to be non partisan.

wasklywabbit
wasklywabbit

 It would be great to have some non-partisonship on these new laws. However, only the Republicans have an ax to grind here. They don't want to have someone who has difficulty getting these ID's to vote. If you are poor or you are ethnically different from the rich white dude mainstream, Republicans don't want you to vote.

wasklywabbit
wasklywabbit

In every case, these voter ID laws are being enacted by Republicans. There are no instances of Democratically controlled state legislatures and governors seeking to restrict voters rights. That alone should send out a warning.

It's just that simple. Republicans want to restrict the voting rights of poor or minority people. Democrats do not. It's an obvious attempt to do an end run around the Voter Rights Act. Republicans want to do away with democracy as defined by anyone other than themselves.

Thank you Tea Party, it's so nice to have you join in being Americans.

Thetruth1010
Thetruth1010

Hello rabbit.  Get a clue.  The US Supreme Court has said that it is legal to have a voter ID law, period.  Just as the US Supreme Court said it is okay to have an abortion.   And byt the way, your dem convention requires an ID to enter the facility.   A little ironic or just hypocricy?

frankblank
frankblank

@lestthantruth:twitter

 - Get a clue, stop lying, and admit this is pure voter suppression.  A republickkan  legislator in PA already admitted it.  An republickkan ex-legislator in FL has already admitted it.  In OH, the republickkan legislature admitted it by their actions, when they cut early voting hours in democratic districts but not in republickkkan districts.  And across the country, republickkan legislatures have admitted it by their actions in requiring Voter ID for in-person voting but not for absentee voting.  Most of the infinitesimal amount of voter fraud we've had has occurred in absentee voting.

And if you're going to defend the lie, stick to the point.  The supreme court, in the person of the Scalia, admitted there is clearly a partisan purpose behind the law.  But since he's a republickkan and the people making the laws are republickkans, he said that their purpose went beyond the partisan. And indeed it did. It went straight to the heart of neo-fascist principles, which include and have always included voter supression.

frankblank
frankblank

  0-1,  For posterity: Since those quotes have been all over the news, what I'd like to do is to have you make a small bet that those things cannot be proven.  Have any guts?  Care to back up your BS opinion with a little cash? 

As to the stevens quote above "The law is amply justified by the valid interest in protecting 'the integrity and reliability of the electoral process,'"  I don't think there is any evidence anywhere, outside Stevens mind, of that ample justification.  All the evidence demonstrates exactly the opposite.  Your nonsense is typical rightwad, no-brain, no evidence, no truth idiocy, as one would expect from your idiotic, poseur screen name. 

Thetruth1010
Thetruth1010

wow, what are you drinking?  show me the quotes where an OH legislator and PA legislator said they are suppressing the vote.  And show me the link that shows OH is cutting the hours to vote in Dem districts.   And you have no comment on how Stevens wrote the majority opinion in the 6-3 decision UPHOLDING the IN law.  Typical rant.  Cant wait until Nov 2nd  or is it the 6th? 

wasklywabbit
wasklywabbit

 The Supreme Court did not require that voter ID's be restricted to ID's that have photos of the voter, did not require them to be from concealed weapon permits and cannot be from college enrollment. The Voter Rights Act should be enforced, not the Tea Party's entirely separate interpretation.

Thetruth1010
Thetruth1010

hello, wake up.  Did not require voter ID's to be restricted to ID's that have voters of the voter?  And College ID can be used.  Easy stuff to look up on the web.  nice try.

  Read below the IN law that was upheld: 

Your photo ID must meet 4 criteria to be acceptable for voting purposes. It Must: 1. Display your photo2. Display your name, and the name must conform to your voter registration record

 

 Display an expiration date and either be current or have expired sometime after the date of the last General Election (November 2, 2010)

NOTE: An ID issued by the US Department of Defense, a branch of the uniformed services, the Merchant Marine, or the Indiana National Guard is not required to have an expiration date, or may state that the document has an "Indefinite" expiration date.

4. Be issued by the State of Indiana or the U.S. government

In most cases, an Indiana driver license, Indiana photo ID card, Military ID or U.S. Passport is sufficient.A student ID from an Indiana State school may only be used if it meets all of the 4 criteria specified above. A student ID from a private institution may not be used for voting purposes.

breezanemom
breezanemom

Voter ID laws were NOT and never have been about restricting the voting rights of poor or minority people.  It's about making sure that the people who DO vote are LEGALLY ALLOWED to vote.  That's all.  Nothing more or less.  

The Democrats are making it out to be something that it isn't.  And that's because most of the illegal voters vote Democrat.  So thanks, Democrats, it's so American of you to try to throw elections your way.

Adnan7631
Adnan7631

Voter fraud is superbly rare. For some reason, nobody tries to vote twice (or gets caught) even though it's extremely easy to do so. 

wasklywabbit
wasklywabbit

 It is in fact a real problem, since the year 2000, there have already been 10 cases of voter fraud being looked into:

"The analysis of 2,068 reported fraud cases by News21, a Carnegie-Knight

investigative reporting project, found 10 cases of alleged in-person

voter impersonation since 2000. With 146 million registered voters in

the United States, those represent about one for every 15 million

prospective voters."

- Washington Post

Oddly enough, if every single one of the 2,068 alleged cases were legitimate, it wouldn't amount to a fart in a hurricane.

Thetruth1010
Thetruth1010

bull.  voter fraud happens every election, it is not prosecuted by big city Dems .  fact.  this is why the Dems are crazy about this because they know the dead people that voted in PA in previous elections won't vote this year. get over it

wasklywabbit
wasklywabbit

And just why are Republicans spending so much energy and time passing laws that purportedly solve a problem that does not exist? Voter fraud is vanishingly small. Yet Republicans are spending huge amounts of money and taxpayers' dollars solving this problem.

Get real. It *is* all about restricting voters' rights. Nothing more, nothing less.

Janelleofj
Janelleofj

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Thetruth1010
Thetruth1010

sorry, saw your US Supreme Court comment in your piece.   So I guess you are saying the US Supreme Court should overturn their own ruling?  Typical.

Thetruth1010
Thetruth1010

So you 'teach' at Yale Law School?   There wasn't one word in your article about the 2008 US Supreme Court ruling (6-3) in favor of Voter ID laws for the States to enact.  A quote from the ruling " The law is amply justified by the valid interest in protecting 'the integrity and reliability of the electoral process,'"  From one of your heros John Paul Stevens.  Try sticking to the facts Mr Yale 'teacher'.