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Texas Voter ID Law in Jeopardy?

Photo by Simrat Sharma KUT News

The U.S. Department of Justice informed the Texas Secretary of State’s office that it has yet to provide the federal government sufficient information about the contentious voter ID law — which could affect the bill's scheduled implementation date of Jan. 1.

Ina letter issued Wednesday, the Department of Justice’s voting rights division told the state it is still unable to determine if the bill, SB 14 by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, which would mandate that voters furnish an ID before casting a ballot, will “have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.” The department must make that determination before the law may be implemented. The DOJ has 60 days from when they feel they have enough information to make a decision, which means the scheduled date of implementation is now jeopardy.

The Secretary of State filed its original request for preclearance in July, but the department determined in September that it needed more information, specifically the racial breakdown and counties of residence of the estimated 605,500 registered voters who do not have a state-issued license or ID, and how many of them have Spanish surnames. It requested the same information for registered voters who do have valid IDs.

On October 5 the state responded by saying it did not have the requested information because it does not collect race data on voter registration applications. So instead, it submitted a list of all the Hispanic surnames in Texas, as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau. It also offered to run that list against the list of registered voters to determine how many have Hispanic names, and provided a spreadsheet showing how many registered voters resided in each county as of Sept. 16. The spreadsheet shows how many voters did not provide an ID when they registered to vote, how many voters did not provide an ID but whose records matched an ID record in the Department of Public Safety database — meaning they have been issued an ID — and those who did not provide an ID and could not be matched with a DPS record.

Though the state subsequently offered late last month to use DPS data to compile a breakdown, Wednesday’s letter implies that it has yet to submit the information.

“Although you did not indicate a date when this information would be available, you noted that the state will provide the results of its analysis as expeditiously as possible,” the letter states.

The Texas Democratic Party, which has staunchly opposed the bill on the grounds that it will disenfranchise the elderly and minorities, claimed the latest development is proof the effort is nothing more than an attempt to adversely affect elections.

“The Republican voter suppression legislation was unquestionably created to keep certain people from voting,” said TDP spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña. “It’s clear that the DOJ’s patience is running out.”

A call to the Texas Secretary of State’s office was not immediately returned. We will update this post once we hear back.

Julian Aguilar covered the 81st legislative session for the Rio Grande Guardian. Previously, he reported from the border for the Laredo Morning Times. A native of El Paso, he has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Texas and a master's degree in journalism from the Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at the University of North Texas.