Appeals court reinstates voter ID law

Jackie Wang

Less than a week before the start of early voting, a federal appeals court reinstated Texas’ controversial state voter ID law Tuesday, which was ruled unconstitutional by a federal district judge last week. 

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined Tuesday it is too late to change the law for the upcoming November election, citing three other Supreme Court decisions to stall Court of Appeals decisions based on the short time frame before elections. Early voting begins Monday, and Election Day is Nov. 4.

“While the Supreme Court has not explained its reasons for issuing these stays, the common thread is clearly that the decision of the Court of Appeals would change the rules of the election too soon before the election date,” the ruling said. “The stayed decisions have both upheld and struck down state statutes and affirmed and reversed district court decisions, so the timing of the decisions rather than their merits seems to be the key.”

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos condemned the law, known as Senate Bill 14, as a method to suppress minority voting. The law requires voters to bring photo identification — such as a driver’s license — in order to vote. She also equated the law to a “poll tax,” citing the extra money that could potentially quash lower-income citizens from voting. 

In their decision, the appeals court said training polling workers under new requirements in less than a month would be too complicated. 

“Here, the district court’s decision on October 11, 2014 presents similar logistical problems because it will ‘be extremely difficult, if not impossible,’ for the State to adequately train its 25,000 polling workers at 8,000 polling places about the injunction’s new requirements in time for the start of early voting on October 20 or even election day on November 4,” the ruling said.

In response to the ruling, Greg Abbott, attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate, called the decision a “victory” in a tweet. 

Abbott’s gubernatorial opponent, state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, condemned Abbott’s position in a statement, calling the voter ID law a “poll tax,” referencing Gonzales’s previous decision. 

“It is deeply disturbing that Greg Abbott would call a law the court said is intentionally discriminatory against African-Americans and Hispanics a ‘victory,’” Davis said. “As the court further said, it’s nothing more than a ‘poll tax,’ which means democracy and all Texans lose.” 

After the ruling, the Texas Department of Public Safety announced it will continue to offer Election Identification Certificates, which will serve as valid identification at the polls. Applicants for EICs must be Texas residents and have proof of U.S. citizenship, as well as be eligible to vote in the upcoming election. 

Max Patterson, director of Student Government’s Hook the Vote agency, said his organization would work to inform students of the law. 

“We will continue to educate students on the restrictions put in place by the legislature for voter ID — either by speaking to classrooms, organizations or by supporting the voter education initiatives of our partner organizations,” Patterson said.