Tuesday's Top Ten Problems With Texas' Voter ID Law

Early Saturday morning, Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan dissented from their brethren’s decision to allow Texas to use its strict voter ID law, SB14, in this fall’s election. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had stayed the district court’s ruling that SB 14 is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court refused to lift the stay, thus letting the law take effect.

Before SB 14 became law, Texas voters needed only a voter registration certificate to cast their votes, and lacking a certificate, could use a driver’s license or even a utility bill to indicate their identity. According to the district court opinion that invalidated SB 14, during the ten years before SB 14’s passage—a period when 20 million votes were cast—only two cases of in-person voter impersonation fraud were prosecuted to a conviction.

There is very little in-person voter fraud in the United States. Nonetheless, Republican legislatures around the country have used fraud as an excuse to make it harder for people—especially minorities and the poor—to vote by setting high hurdles for them to show the proper documentation at the polls.

Texas passed the strictest voter ID law in the country, where the only acceptable forms of photo ID are: (1) a driver’s license, personal ID card, and license to carry a concealed handgun, all issued by the Department of Public Safety (DPS); (2) a United States military ID card containing a photo; (3) a United States citizenship certificate containing a photo; and (4) a United States passport.

Following are ten significant problems with Texas’ voting law.

  1. SB 14 may prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas voters (about 4.5% of all registered voters) from voting for lack of appropriate ID.
  2. A disproportionate number of the voters likely to be affected by the law are African-American or Hispanic.
  3. The district court found that SB 14 was enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose and would have a discriminatory effect, and that the legislature had the incentive to counteract the “seismic demographic shift” that made Texas a majority-minority state.
  4. Although voters may obtain an alternative, election identification certificate (EIC) from DPS, over 400,000 eligible voters would have to travel three hours or more to reach the nearest DPS office.
  5. Texas’ efforts to familiarize the public and poll workers with the new voting requirements were “woefully lacking” and “grossly underfunded,” including not giving much information about the alternative forms of ID.
  6. Acquiring the certified birth certificate needed for the correct ID can cost $22.
  7. A voter whose birth certificate lists her maiden name may have to pay $37 to get a qualifying document that matches her current name.
  8. The cost of the requirements operates as an unconstitutional poll tax blocking citizens from their right to vote. Poll taxes were part of the Jim Crow laws used to block African Americans from voting. Texas kept poll taxes long after other states had rejected them. The Twenty Fourth Amendment prohibits poll taxes.
  9. Unlike other state ID laws, Texas will not accept a photo ID from an in-state four-year college or one from a federally recognized Indian tribe.
  10. No accommodation was made for indigent voters to cast provisional ballots if they lack ID. But there is a religious accommodation for those who object to having their photo taken. Religious voters are more likely to vote Republican.

The following chart demonstrates how strict Texas is:


Leslie C. Griffin

Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law. Professor Griffin, who teaches constitutional law, is known for her interdisciplinary work in law and religion. She holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale University and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.