Electile Dysfunction


Eileen Smith

In July, Texas will face off with the feds over the state’s voter ID law, one of the most stringent in the nation. Our governor deemed voter ID an emergency issue during the last legislative session and a more-than-willing Legislature passed the measure. In March, the law was blocked by that perennially overreaching and meddling Justice Department which cited discrimination against minorities in general and Hispanic voters in particular. Rick Perry blasted U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision, saying that the law required nothing more than the type of photo ID needed to board an airplane, receive a library card or secure a concealed handgun license. (People who don’t carry shouldn’t be allowed to vote anyway.) At the time Sen. John Cornyn claimed that the decision “reeked of politics” and was intended to help the president’s reelection campaign. Clearly the administration was also using the issue to sink Perry’s campaign. It worked nicely.

“The Texas proposal was based on a similar law passed by the Indiana legislature, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2008,” said Congressman Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “The administration’s actions aren’t just wrong, they are arrogant, undemocratic and an insult to the rule of law.” Curious use of the word undemocratic, which at its core refers to something not based on the principles of democracy and social equality. Like, perhaps, the right to vote.

Texas is one of 10 states that passed new voter ID laws in 2011 or 2012, and far from the only one battling it out with the Holder. This week the Justice Department filed a high-profile lawsuit against Florida’s controversial “voter purge,” which would remove voters that “may or may not be citizens” from its voter rolls, saying it violates federal law. The state of Florida then filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security for refusing to provide access to a database that could help them hunt down those elusive potentially-ineligible-but-potentially-eligible voters.

The Texas voter ID lawsuit will be heard by a three-judge federal panel on July 9. State Attorney General Greg Abbott sought to block the Justice Department from deposing lawmakers involved with the voter ID bill. However bill authors Sen. Troy Fraser and Rep. Patricia Harless, along with other lawmakers, have already been deposed. No doubt they will be treated as hostile witnesses.

Naturally both Senate candidates looking to take Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat and become Cornyn’s junior have weighed in on the issue. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz feature online petitions on their campaign websites encouraging their supporters to oppose the actions of the Justice Department and the Obama administration. As solicitor general, Cruz successfully defended a lawsuit filed by the Texas Democratic Party to prevent the enforcement of the voter ID law or, as he refers to it, the “voter fraud” law. He also defended Indiana’s photo ID law before the Supreme Court. Point Cruz.

Meanwhile, voter ID finally passed the Senate under Dewhurst’s leadership after he aggressively pushed for it over two legislative sessions. Counterpoint Dewhurst. Clearly this is an issue close to their hearts and one that will surely win over the Hispanic voters their party is so desperate to reach.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, roughly 11 percent of eligible voters do not have a government-issued photo ID. Whether or not the new law could be implemented here in time for the general election remains to be seen. But it sure would be a bummer for Republicans to see that 11 percent show up at the polls.