The U.S. Department of Justice moved on Monday to block a new Texas voter ID law from going into effect over concerns that it could disenfranchise some of the state's minority voters. Texas is one of several states required to have its voting laws approved by the DOJ because of a history of voter discrimination. The DOJ argued that state lawmakers had failed to prove that there was enough evidence of voter fraud to justify the new rules, prompting the department's Civil Rights Division to conclude that the law requiring voters to show personal identification before casting ballots was likely to more heavily impact Hispanic voters.
According to the DOJ, Hispanics make up only 21.8 percent of all registered Texas voters, but they comprise more than 38 percent of the registered voters who lack the proper kinds of identification.
Texas governor and former GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry slammed the decision in a statement, saying it was "yet another example of the Obama administration's continuing and pervasive federal overreach ... The DOJ has no valid reason for rejecting this important law, which requires nothing more extensive than the type of photo identification necessary to receive a library card or board an airplane."
Texas is one of eight states that require official photo IDs as part of efforts to stop what state officials say is rampant voter fraud. The laws were all passed after Republicans swept statehouses in the 2010 midterm elections. Opponents have argued that the measures are intended to purposely suppress the vote among traditionally Democratic voting blocs, which include poor, elderly, young and minority voters.
Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, said that while her group was not a plaintiff in the Texas case, the voter registration group was pleased by the outcome. "These new laws do impose significant barriers to young people and students in particular," she said.
Also on Monday, the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel reported that a judge struck down that state's new voter ID law. Dane County Circuit Court Judge Richard Niess was the second judge in two weeks to invalidate the law for violating the state's constitution, with the argument that it undermines basic rights. While the state's attorney general promised to appeal the decision, the new ruling may make it impossible to argue that case before the upcoming April 3 primary. Like the Texas law, the Wisconsin one is likely headed to a higher court.
Smith said her organization will also now work with universities in Wisconsin to make sure students get the proper kind of ID needed to meet the existing state voting laws.
MTV's Powerof12 has been following developments surrounding the spate of new voting laws around the nation this election season. We've spoken to young voters about the potential impact of new voter registration restrictions in Florida and what that might mean for the general election.
On March 1, a federal judge heard arguments from Rock the Vote and a number of other civic organizations that urged that the laws' implementation be halted. The judge is expected to make a decision in several weeks. It was the first hearing since Rock the Vote, the League of Women Voters of Florida and Florida PIRG filed suit in December to block the law passed by the state's legislature.
The organizations — which have had to suspend their voter registration activities in the state in the interim — argue that the new law imposes onerous new restrictions on community-based voter registration drives, including "burdensome administrative requirements, onerously tight deadlines, and heavy penalties for even the slightest delay or mistake." They have argued that the decision could have a big impact on the ability of thousands of Floridians, many of them voters 18 to 29 years old, to cast ballots in the November general election.
"It's very promising to see the courts uphold this idea that any attempt to make it harder to register and vote is unconstitutional," Smith said of the potential impact of the Texas and Wisconsin rulings on the pending Florida decision. "I believe that is the case in Florida ... and it's unfortunate that we had to go to this length, but I feel confident that the judge will uphold the constitution and students will get the right to exercise their right to vote [in Florida]."