United States Attorney General Eric Holder has had to use his powers under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to intervene with prohibitive new voting laws in Texas that would have required voters to show government-issued identification at the polls during this coming election. The Justice Department ruled that Texas law would disproportionately deny Hispanics and other marginalized populations the right to vote—a frequent concern about such “strict” voter ID laws. Texas is among 16 states and counties that are required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to obtain federal “pre-clearance” of new voting laws that could affect minorities. The law was enacted in the Civil Rights era as a way of protecting the voting rights of African Americans and other marginalized groups. But as we mentioned in an earlier post, there are now countless new voting laws being implemented all over the country in an attempt to restrict minorities, especially Hispanics and other immigrant groups, from voting—Texas is not the only one. In fact, this law that was blocked is just one of a number of restrictive voter ID laws.
The laws have raised red flags of concern from voting rights and civil rights groups who say they are a barrier to the polls for women, African Americans, Latinos, students, low-income voters, the elderly and people with disabilities. In the case of women, the millions who change their names as is customary after getting married or divorced could face problems updating documentation because it takes time and money that many women, especially those with low-income, do not have. According to the Brennan Center, only 66% of voting-age women have ready access to proof-of-citizenship documentation with their current legal name. Interestingly enough, before 2011, only two states exclusively required government-issued IDs for voting while the rest accepted various forms of ID, including student IDs, Social Security cards, utility bills and bank statements. But last year, 34 state legislatures, mostly Republican-led, introduced strict ID laws, and seven states—Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin—passed them into law. Just like Texas, South Carolina is also covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and the Justice Department recently struck down their new strict ID law for the same reasons.