De Leon: Justice Department Protects Latino Citizens’ Right to Vote

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The Justice Department was concerned that a new law in Texas would suppress Latino voter turnout. (Photo: Tom Giebel/flickr)

The Justice Department blocked Texas’ new voter ID law on Monday, out of concern that it violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The federal agency believes the law would disproportionately impact Latino voters, who often lack photo ID, and thereby suppress their turnout.

Texas, because of its history of voter discrimination, needs to clear its voting laws with the Justice Department.

Thomas E. Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Justice Department, argued in a letter to Texas Elections Director Keith Ingram that the state had failed to prove the measure would not disproportionately disenfranchise Latino and other voters of color.

“According to the state’s own data, a Hispanic registered voter is at least 46.5 percent, and potentially 120 percent, more likely than a non-Hispanic registered voter to lack this identification,” Perez wrote.

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund issued a statement praising the Department of Justice’s action.

“We applaud the Department of Justice for halting the implementation of a discriminatory voter identification law that would institute burdensome requirements on Latino voters and create significant obstacles for their political participation in Texas’ electoral process,” it read.

About 2.8 million registered voters in Texas are Hispanic. Benjamin Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), also commended the Justice Department. He told the New York Times that the state law “would have blocked hundreds of thousands of Hispanic voters from the polls just because they lack a state-issued photo ID.”

Gov. Rick Perry defended the law. “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. Their denial is yet another example of the Obama Administration‘s continuing and pervasive federal overreach,” he said.

Texas officials anticipated the Justice Department’s decision and have already filed suit with a panel of federal judges, hoping that the new voter ID law can be enforced in November.

According to the National Conference of Legislatures, 31 states have laws in place that require voters to show ID at the polls. Fifteen of those states mandate that the ID must include a photo of the voter.

“The right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights afforded to citizens by the U.S. Constitution,” NALEO reminded readers.

There is nothing wrong with requiring identification from voters. But demanding the kind of IDs which minority U.S. citizens tend to lack, while not providing easy access to these forms of identification, brazenly thwarts their constitutional right to vote. It bears pointing out that the stringent voter ID laws are overwhelmingly promulgated by Republican-controlled state legislatures whose members know voters of color tend to vote Democratic.

Gov. Perry accused the Justice Department of overreaching. It was not. In blocking Texas’ voter ID law, it was only doing its job.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

Feet in Two Worlds is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.