The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] objected Monday to the recently passed Texas voter identification law [SB 14 materials]. In a letter [text] from Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, the DOJ claimed that the changes requiring voters to present a valid photo identification are unenforceable under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) [Cornell LII backgrounder] because it would adversely effect Hispanic voters. According to the letter, Hispanic voters encompass 21.8 percent of registered voters within the state and are more than twice as likely not to have valid photo identification than non-Hispanic registered voters. The DOJ recognized that the state had a legitimate purpose in preventing voter fraud and safeguarding voter confidence, but noted there is no evidence that these issues are not already addressed by existing legislation. In addition, the DOJ argued that the proposed legislation shows no evidence that the Texas legislature sought alternative means to combat the problem that would not have retrogressive effects. Finally, Perez wrote, "Because we conclude that the state has failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that the proposed law will not have a retrogressive effect, we do not make any determination as to whether the state has established that the proposed changes were adopted with no discriminatory purpose." The State of Texas may request that the attorney general reconsider this objection or may seek a declaratory judgment from the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] that the legislation does not have a discriminatory purpose or effect.
There are now 31 US states [NCSL backgrounder] that require voters to present some form of ID at the poll, including 15 states that require photo ID, but the issue remains controversial. In February South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson filed suit against the DOJ over its ruling that barred South Carolina [JURIST reports] from enforcing its voter ID law. Last year Missouri's Governor vetoed a proposed photo ID law, and the Georgia Supreme Court upheld a law [JURIST reports] requiring one of six government-issued photo IDs. In 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] struck down [JURIST report] a portion of Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration. Last month, Texas also issued new voting maps [JURIST report] for use in the 2012 elections after an "interim map" was challenged before the Supreme Court [official website], which heard arguments [JURIST report] in January. The Obama administration urged the Supreme Court to reject the interim maps [JURIST report].