Re-enfranchising students

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has been busy lately. With the redistricting battle temporarily settled — though the final outcome is still uncertain — the attorney general’s office filed several other suits against the federal government. Last week, Abbott challenged the constitutionality of the government’s refusal to fund the Texas Women’s Health Program if the state excludes Planned Parenthood. Also last week, Texas’ controversial Voter ID law passed last year, was rejected for preclearance by the Department of Justice. In response, the attorney general’s office filed suit arguing that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the same provision responsible for the redistricting headaches, is unconstitutional.

The Voter ID law passed by the Legislature last session would require voters to present a state-issued photographic ID card in order to vote in elections. Acceptable forms of ID include state drivers licenses and concealed handgun licenses but notably do not include student ID cards issued by state universities. If the law had gone into effect as planned, students wanting to vote in the May 29 primary would have needed to present an acceptable ID, presenting a problem for many out-of-state students and others without driver’s licenses unaware of the law.

Though the implementation plan included a voter education campaign, the state seems to have done little in that regard. Moreover, the added requirements of the voter ID law would have further complicated an already uncertain and confusing election cycle which has included multiple changes of dates and districts. The Justice Department’s blocking of the law means that it will not be in effect for the May 29 primary. Their move is welcome as it will likely reduce the chances voters will be turned away at the polls for being unaware of an increasingly dizzying array of last-minute changes to the process.