Court Order relaxes Voter ID requirements

This column first appeared in the San Antonio Express-News on August 29, 2016.

2016-08-29Dear Mr. Premack: I’ve been reading about the voter ID mess, and wonder if you could summarize what the law is now that the federal courts have intervened. As a Senior, I no longer have a driver’s license. Will I still need to present a photo ID in order to vote in the Presidential election? I.C.

The case in federal court was filed against Texas by a large group of plaintiffs, including the United States of America, the Texas Association of Hispanic County Judges and County Commissioners, the Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund, the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches, and many other organizations and individuals. They alleged that the Voter ID law (SB 14) passed by the Texas Legislature in 2011 was discriminatory, and the trial court in Corpus Christi agreed.

Texas appealed to the 5th Circuit, and it also ruled for the plaintiffs. The appeals court found that the Voter ID law had discriminatory effects. It also sent the case back to the trial court to determine if the law had been passed with discriminatory intent. The parties are still litigating that point, and Texas has stated that it intends to appeal the case to the US Supreme Court (which had already instructed the 5th Circuit to rule on the case early enough that changes could be made to the ID requirements well in advance of the November election).

The trial court in Corpus Christi has issued an Order regarding an agreed interim voting plan for upcoming elections. The agreement modifies SB 14 to reduce its discriminatory effects. Under the Order, a registered voter is allowed to cast a ballot –

  1. By presenting a photo ID acceptable under SB 14, so long as that ID has not been expired for more than four years. This expands on SB 14, which allowed expired IDs only for sixty days. This may solve the issue for many Seniors who have stopped driving, because their expired driver’s license can still be used to vote so long as four years have not passed.
  2. By presenting any of the following: the voter registration card, a certified birth certificate, a current utility bill, a bank statement, a government check, a paycheck, or any other government document that shows the voter’s name and address. The voter will also have to sign a “reasonable impediment” declaration at the polling place. The local election supervisor may not question whether the voter’s reasons are adequate.

The “reasonable impediment” declaration must be signed and sworn to before the election judge at the polling place. Various excuses for not having the SB 14 photo ID are listed as lack of transportation, disability or illness, lack of a birth certificate or other document needed for issuance of the ID, busy work schedule, family responsibilities, lost or stolen ID, ID applied for but not yet received, and “other”.

Thus, any registered voter will be allowed to cast a ballot in the upcoming election, even if the voter lacks one of the SB 14 approved photo IDs. College students should be able to use their out-of-state driver’s licenses to vote in Texas so long as they complete the reasonable impediment declaration. The address on the ID does not have to match the address on the voting rolls to be acceptable.

Voting by mail continues to be available, without the need for any type of ID. Anyone 65 or older can apply to vote by mail, but the application must be received by the government by October 28. Go to www.VoteTexas.gov for more information and to apply for a ballot.

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