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Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Texas Voter ID Law Now In Hands Of Three-Judge Panel

Jul 13, 2012
Originally published on July 13, 2012 4:05 pm

The fate of Texas' new voter ID law is now up to a three-judge federal panel in Washington, D.C.

Lawyers for Texas and the Justice Department wrapped up five days of arguments in U.S. District Court Friday, with each side accusing the other of using deeply "flawed" data to show whether minorities would be unfairly hurt by a photo ID requirement.

The Justice Department said in court that about 1.5 million registered Texas voters don't have state-issued photo IDs, and that a disproportionate share of those voters are Hispanic or black. But Texas attorneys noted that the Justice Department didn't take into account whether those voters might have passports or citizenship papers, which are also acceptable ID.

Texas officials also argued that the federal government's numbers were inflated because the state's voter registration database is filled with errors. They said it includes the names of tens of thousands of voters who have either died or moved out of state.

And lawyers for Texas argued that it's difficult to match names on the registration lists with motor vehicle records — which the Justice Department did — because people use different versions of their names.

Just to make the point, the Texas lawyers noted that former President George W. Bush and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison are both on the DOJ's list of those who could be affected by the law, even though both presumably have photo ID.

But in this case, the burden of proof is on Texas to show that its law would not be discriminatory. And the Justice Department took aim at studies Texas used to support its argument that the photo ID requirement would not block minorities from voting. DOJ noted that the studies looked at the impact of ID requirements in Indiana and Georgia, which are less restrictive.

The Justice Department said Texas lawmakers not only passed a law that would have a discriminatory effect but argued that was actually their intent.

Attorneys representing minority voters said Republicans in the state were worried about an explosion in the state's minority population, under the assumption that many of these new residents would vote Democratic.

But witnesses for Texas said the law was passed last year to help prevent voter fraud — although there was little evidence in the trial that in-person voter fraud in Texas is widespread.

The panel is expected to make its decision by late August, and a lot of people outside Texas are interested in the outcome. A number of states have passed voter ID laws, and several await Justice Department approval — or "preclearance." That's required under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for states with a history of voter discrimination.

If Texas loses, it will almost certainly appeal to the Supreme Court, where the state hopes the preclearance requirement will be ruled unconstitutional.

Texas and other states argue that discrimination that occurred decades ago should no longer be used to require them to go through more hoops than other states to enact voting laws.

Opponents of the new photo ID requirements say passage of these new ID laws is evidence that such hoops are still needed.

Two of the judges on the panel — Robert Wilkins and David Tatel — were appointed by Democratic presidents. The third — Rosemary Collyer — was appointed by a Republican. But all three raised concerns about the data Texas presented in its case.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.