The Battle Over Texas Voter ID Will Likely Continue Through 2017

Nov 18, 2016

The voter ID law caused a lot of confusion at the polls during this year’s election. There were even lawsuits filed, but the fight over voter ID was already sure to stay alive in the courts.

In fact, the seemingly endless battle over the Texas voter ID law might get more complicated.

Matt Williams, a lawyer in here in Austin, says when he voted early in Dripping Springs, both he and the poll workers there didn’t know the new voter ID rules.

“I haven’t really been keeping up with voter ID. I knew that there had been a legal challenge to it that involved the State of Texas,” he said. “But I didn’t know any details. I don’t do election law and I have a pretty busy practice, so I wasn’t keeping track of what the rules were and what the result was of that suit.”

That confusion was widespread and spurred a new lawsuit in San Antonio just prior to Election Day.

The rules are that you could vote without a photo ID, if you showed some documents, like a utility bill with your current address, and signed a form. Those rules were the result of a lawsuit and ruling by a federal appeals court, which found the state’s law discriminated against minorities. Ezra Rosenberg is one of the lawyers representing the people challenging the law. He says, even after the election, that lawsuit is still moving forward on two other tracks.

“One is Texas’ petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, at the same time the district court Judge Ramos has set a schedule for the briefing and argument for the discriminatory intent claim,” Rosenberg said.

That means the U.S. Supreme Court can decide to weigh in on that last ruling. And, separately, another federal court can go farther in striking down the state’s law, if it finds the law was created with the purpose of discriminating.

Although, Rosenberg says one won’t exactly affect the other.

“Right now they are running in parallel and no one has made a motion to stay the proceedings before Judge Ramos,” he said. “Right now, we are assuming we are moving full speed ahead on the intent issue.”

Further complicating things is the fact that the Texas legislative session starts in January. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has made voter ID one of his top 10 priorities.

Jen Clark with the Brennan Center, which is also representing the plaintiffs in the intent case, says state lawmakers should proceed with caution.

“I hope that the legislature pays attention to all the complaints, including the subsidiary lawsuit that came from voters throughout the course of early voting and election day about just kind of mess and confusion of this law on the ground,” she said.

And, if there are any special elections in the interim – like the special election to replace Dawnna Dukes in Austin's Texas House District 46 – lawyers say voters will likely use the same voter ID rules used during this past election.