Good news for the 600,000 registered voters in Texas who lack the necessary photo ID to vote in a Texas election. After five years of legal challenges that went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, on July 20, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Texas Voter ID law passed in 2011 was discriminatory. So now there are new rules for voters, and more ways to prove you are who you say you are.
The bench ordered Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos to approve new interim rules for the Nov. 8 election. These were negotiated by the state and the plaintiffs, approved by Ramos, and then finally issued by the Secretary of State's office on Aug. 10.
Since the court upheld the principal that the voter ID is still constitutional, registered voters can still present one of seven forms of government-issued photo ID: a Texas driver's license, Election Identification Certificate, personal ID card, or concealed-carry license; or a U.S. passport, military photo ID, or citizenship certificate with photo. That's the same as the 2011 list, but there are several major changes approved by all parties, designed to bring the rules into compliance with the Voting Rights Act:
1) The ID can have expired within the last four years; previously, it could be only 60 days past expiration.
2) The state also will accept what is called an affidavit bypass. If a registered voter doesn't have one of the seven accepted IDs, they can sign a declaration at the polling station explaining why not, then present any of the following supporting documents: a certified original birth certificate, a valid voter registration certificate, a current utility bill or bank statement, a government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter. Supporting documents don't have to have a photo, but if they happen to, then voters will need to present the original. Otherwise, they can present a copy.
Voters with a disability will still be able to apply for a permanent exemption by applying to the county registrar with an approved ID, as long as it has not expired within the past two years. Similarly, voters with a religious objection to being photographed, or anyone who does not have an approved ID due to circumstances resulting from a federally declared natural disaster, may apply for a temporary exemption.
Importantly, these are only interim rules. Ramos has also been instructed to examine whether the state crafted the law with discriminatory intent, or whether it was purely accidental. It is also inevitable that lawmakers will tackle the issue in the next legislative session. These interim rules seem designed to meet the minimum standard under the VRA, and while it seems unlikely that photo voter ID will be completely overturned, it seems probable there will be a push to add further forms of ID, including student IDs, which are accepted in other states.
Still have questions? Call the Texas Secretary of State's election division at 1-800-252-VOTE.
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