Despite Court Ruling, Voter ID Law Still In Effect For Now | KERA News

Despite Court Ruling, Voter ID Law Still In Effect For Now

Aug 10, 2015
Originally published on August 10, 2015 12:15 pm

The State of Texas has yet to file an appeal over a ruling against the state's voter identification law. Last week the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the law violated the Voting Rights Act.

But where do things stand now, and does the ruling mean Texans don't have to bring a photo ID when they vote this fall?

“We don't actually have a final remedial order from the lower court,” says Joseph Fishkin, a professor at the School of Law at the University of Texas. “But that's really just a question of time. If Texas were to not appeal this decision, then I would imagine the trial court would, in fairly short order, issue a remedy that would at least modify the law.”

The 5th Circuit Court offered several suggestions on how to fix the problems with the law, including expanding the number of documents allowed to stand in for a driver's license.

Those suggestions are not binding, but Fishkin says they’re a way for the higher court to avoid throwing out the entire law. There might just be a couple of tweaks that can fix the discriminatory effects of the law.

However, the trial court was also ordered to reconsider whether the law was intentionally written to discriminate. If the law is once again determined intentionally discriminatory, small tweaks may not be enough. But, even if the state appeals the current ruling, this case could be wrapped up relatively quickly.

"I think everyone will try to move this along relatively quickly in the hope of not being still fighting about it in September-October 2016,” Fishkin says.

If there is an appeal, the law would most likely remain in place, since it's already been left in place during the current appeals process, but a study released last week from Rice University shows that the law may have had a significant impact on a single district’s turnout in the 2014 election.

The study focused on non-voters — specifically people who were registered to vote, but did not cast ballots. Researchers found nearly 13 percent of non-voters in District 23 cited "lack of ID" as one of the reasons they did not vote. 

“The biggest impact of the law wasn't that it kept people away who had, who wanted to vote but didn't have an ID,” says Rice University’s Mark Jones, a co-author of the study. “It discouraged people from turning out to vote who actually had an ID but for some reason believed that their ID wasn't one of the valid forms of ID.”

Less than three percent of those who cited a lack of valid ID as the reason for not voting were actually ineligible to vote under the law and possessed at least one of the seven forms of identification required at the polls.

Jones says those who mistakenly believed they couldn't vote were more likely to be Latino and more likely to lean Democrat. District 23 stretches from San Antonio to Far West Texas and encompasses much of the Texas-Mexico border.

The study found the law kept four to five times as many voters supporting then-incumbent Pete Gallego, who lost to challenger Will Hurd by just over 2,400 votes.

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