GLEN ROSE - "It is wrong — deadly wrong — to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country."
President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke those words to Congress prior to signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. Although that law was passed more than 50 years ago, new voter laws are once again making it tougher for citizens to vote.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, from 2011-15, 395 new voting laws were introduced in 49 states. The new provisions included requiring state IDs and proof of citizenship for voter registration, shutting down voter registration drives, and ending same day registrations. Supporters of the laws said the new provisions would protect against voter fraud.
In 2011, Texas was one of many states that voted to enacted stricter voting laws. The Texas law required residents to show one of seven state-approved forms of photo IDs in order to cast a ballot.
If voters don’t have one of the acceptable forms of ID, they can apply for a free Election Identification Certificate (EIC).
The EIC was created for the sole purpose of allowing someone without an ID a chance to vote. To qualify an applicant must have documentation to verify U.S. citizenship and identity, be a Texas resident and eligible to vote in the state, and be 17 years and ten months of age or older.
In Somervell County, residents can obtain an EIC at the voter's registration office in the Somervell County Courthouse Annex building. With the 2016 elections in full swing, Somervell County Elections Administrator, Christy Barclay said that she hasn’t issued any EIC’s so far this election period.
Residents can apply and receive an EIC at anytime. If you are interested in obtaining an EIC, Barclay said to contact the office prior to coming in. The office will need to have all necessary forms and equipment set-up to issue the certificate.
Since the law was passed in 2011, civil rights advocates and the Justice Department have challenged the controversial voter ID laws. They argued that the measures effectively kept poor residents and minorities out of polling places, because they often lack government IDs or the ability to obtain a valid ID. The groups advocated even harder for the revision of the laws after the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voters Rights Act in 2013.
That decision invalidated a section of the act that required states and local governments with a history of racial discrimination - in regards to voting - to get permission from the federal government before changing voting laws.
Although states would no longer be subject to federal pre-clearance of voting changes, Chief Justice John Roberts explained in the majority opinion that section 2, which prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of the language minority groups, was available “in appropriate cases to block voting laws from going into effect. [...] Section 2 is permanent, applies nationwide, and is not at issue in this case.”
With that ruling in place, the Justice Department and advocates argued that the Texas law discriminated against minorities.
In 2014, the U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi ruled the law was imposed with discriminatory purpose, created an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote and had an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans. The court compared the law to an unconstitutional “poll tax” that would require poor Texans to pay to vote, because of the fees associated with getting the necessary ID.
Since the ruling was determined two weeks before early voting began, the voter ID law remained intact and voters had to show ID for the 2014 midterm elections.
That didn’t stop proponents from celebrating the court ruling.
“We are greatly encouraged by today’s decision," Texas NAACP President Gary Bledsoe said. “This decision vindicates what African American and Latino leaders have been saying since this law was first proposed, that it discriminates against minority voters and was designed to do just that.”
The state appealed the ruling and the case was sent before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In 2015 - a day before the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act - the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals declared that Texas' tough voter ID law had discriminatory effect on minorities and violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Specifically, that it violated Section 2 of the act. The court of appeals ruling rejected the “poll tax” finding of the earlier decision, since Texas had at that time taken steps to allow residents to receive IDs for free.
Even though the ruling was made, the state is still fighting to keep the law in place.
"In light of ongoing voter fraud, it is imperative that Texas has a voter ID law that prevents cheating at the ballot box," Gov. Greg Abbott said after the decision was made. "Texas will continue to fight for its voter ID requirement to ensure the integrity of elections in the Lone Star State."
Caught in the Act: Recent Federal Election Fraud Cases, an academic journal outlining research conducted by Delia Bailey of Washington University found only nine federal election fraud cases that occurred between 2000 and 2005. In 2007, The New York Times examined five years’ worth of Justice Department record and found only 26 convictions for voter fraud. A two-year investigation by Iowa’s Secretary of State, Matt Schultz found evidence of 117 illegally cast votes, which led to charges against 27 fraudulent voters and only six criminal convictions.
The issue of voter IDs laws in Texas isn’t completely resolved.
The 5th circuit court sent the law back to the U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi with the question of whether voter ID was enacted with discriminatory intent. The appeal is currently pending and the voter ID law remains in effect until a decision is made.