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Justice Department blocks Texas voter ID law

The Justice Department on Monday blocked enforcement of the voter identification law which Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed last spring, contending that it would have a discriminatory impact on Latino voters.

In a letter to Texas Director of Elections Keith Ingram, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said that “according to the state’s own data, a Hispanic registered voter is at least 46.5 percent, and potentially 120.0 percent, more likely than a non-Hispanic registered voter” to lack either a driver’s license or a state-issued identification card, which would be required to vote.

Ralph Barrera / AP

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is interviewed in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012.

Under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Texas is one of nine states that is required to get pre-approval from the Justice Department or from a federal judge prior to implementing any change in voting procures.

In his letter Monday, Perez also argued that under the Texas law, in order to get a state-issued voter identification card, a voter would need to provide two pieces of secondary identification, or one piece of secondary identification and two supporting documents. “If a voter does not possess any of these documents, the least expensive option will be to spend $22 on a copy of the voter’s birth certificate,” he said. This, Perez said, would impose a burden on Hispanic voters because many have incomes below the federal poverty line.

The Justice Department decision on Monday was expected since it had blocked a similar law in South Carolina, another state also covered by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

It is not the end of the battle over voter ID in the Lone Star State. 

In January, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott asked a federal court in Washington to allow Texas to use its photo ID law. That court has yet to issue a ruling.

Abbott argued that even if the Justice Department contends that the Texas law has the effect of limiting the voting rights of those who do not possess a government-issued photo identification, “it does not do so on account of their race or color -- it does so on account of their decision not to obtain the identification that the State offers free of charge.”

Abbott also argued that other states, such as Indiana, Kansas, and Wisconsin, “have been able to enact and enforce similar laws without interference” from the Justice Department. “Yet Texas is denied that ability to implement election-fraud prevention laws. This creates a two-tracked system of sovereignty,” in which some states can enforce their photo-identification requirements, but Texas cannot, “even though all of these state laws comply with the Constitution.”