Why Texas Lawmakers Don’t Want The Courts To Handle Voter ID Law

Texas lawmakers are considering changes to the state’s 2011 voter ID law – even though the law has already seen some changes by judges.

By Rhonda FanningMay 23, 2017 11:02 am

The 2011 Texas voter ID law was one of the strictest such laws in the nation. It required Texans to show one of seven approved forms of photo identification to vote.

Supporters say it was meant to protect against voter fraud, but federal courts have ruled not once, not twice but three times that it discriminates against minorities.

Tuesday is the last chance for lawmakers in the Texas House to take up a fix to the measure. But why do they need to change the bill at all since the courts have already weighed in? And what happens if legislators do not make a change in time?

Joseph Fishkin is a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

“The Texas voter ID law from 2011 has already been modified by the district court after the district court ruled that it violated Texas voters’ rights and discriminated against minority voters,” Fishkin says. “So what the lawmakers are doing bears a fair amount of resemblance to what the judge has already imposed.”

But Fishkin says there are a couple of reasons why the legislature may want to put its stamp on the measure.

“One, the legislature’s version contains some criminal penalties — so if you have an ID but you fill out the thing saying you don’t, then there are criminal penalties attached to that,” Fishkin says.

Fishkin says lawmakers also may be trying to avoid being bailed back in to preclearance under the Voter Rights Act.

“Which means Texas could have to, in the future – as it had to do all the way up until 2013, submit its changes to any of its election procedures to the Justice Department or to a federal court before they get to go into effect,” Fishkin says.