The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Editorial: ID plan could disenfranchise potential voters


F or five days this month, Texas presented its best arguments for why its Voter ID law does not discriminate against minorities.

The federal government offered its own critical assessment.

The political nature of this national debate over access to the polls, which largely pits Republicans against Democrats, predictably resulted in widely divergent analyses.

Before we address the particulars, a reminder of what's at stake: The importance of this case extends beyond our borders because Texas and other Republican-controlled states are also bent on challenging the Voting Rights Act. The landmark legislation applies to certain states with a history of discrimination and imposes on each the burden of proving that voting laws neither intentionally nor effectively discriminate against minorities. The obvious goal is to have the Supreme Court reassess the act, and every legal challenge brings us closer to that end.

The U.S. Department of Justice stopped Texas from enforcing the 2011 law on the grounds that the state failed to prove its provisions did not discriminate, as mandated by the Voting Rights Act. Texas is now asking a three-judge panel in Washington to allow it to enforce the law, which would require voters to present photo identification before casting ballots.

We opposed the Voter ID law, and nothing in the legal arguments presented in Washington dissuades us from that view. We do, however, recognize that many Texans — indeed, many Americans — see no problem with requiring voters to present valid photo identification. Convincing these people that the law is injurious to democracy is difficult, because to them, common sense says otherwise.

Texas provided evidence in court that we hope will prove the case against Voter ID. Its own expert, a statistician from the University of Texas at Austin, gave us a very precise estimate of the number of registered voters who will be disenfranchised if the law were to go into effect: 167,724.

That is just a fraction of the 1.4 million voters who could be adversely affected under the Justice Department's own calculations, but let's accept it at face value. To put the Texas estimate in perspective, it is the equivalent of denying the vote to every person in Grand Prairie or in Brownsville.

That is plainly unacceptable. When you consider that most of those affected are minorities, the harmful intent and effect of the law are clear.

To those who say Voter ID laws will prevent fraud at the polls — a straw argument because there is no evidence of widespread and systematic abuse — the director of special investigations for the Texas attorney general offered fresh insights.

Testifying for the state, he said only five people had been prosecuted for impersonating a voter (despite obvious and extensive efforts to find and prosecute them). To assuage another hollow concern, he said there were no cases involving noncitizens who had voted.

Voting is a right, and citizens should be skeptical of any measure that broadly impedes participation. That doesn't mean we shouldn't safeguard the electoral process or be vigilant for abuse. There are ways to do that without denying thousands of registered voters the right vote. Texas, unintentionally, made the case for us.

— The Dallas Morning News


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