Your Houston News: Department of Justice blocks Texas Voter ID law

-By Melecio Franco

November 18, 2011- In Texas, one has to have a picture identification to buy beer, lottery tickets, cigarettes and spray paint, but efforts to require voters to meet those same requirements have been halted by the federal government.

Despite the efforts of Texas lawmakers to require voters to present picture identification in order to vote, on Nov. 16, the U.S. Department of Justice told state election officials that they have not provided enough information about racial statistics on Hispanics in each county for the law to receive preclearance.

In a letter from T. Christian Herren Jr., chief of the voting section of the DOJ to state election officials, Texas was told that it did not provide “the number of registered voters in Texas by race and Spanish surname within county of residence who current possess a Texas driver’s license or other form of identification issued by [the Department of Public Safety (DPS)] that is current or has expired within 60 days.”

By not providing the information the DOJ believes that the new law has not yet met the requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The letter states that “the information provided thus far is incomplete and does not allow us to determine that the proposed changes have neither the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color or membership in a language minority group as required under section 5 (of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.)”

Until the federal government receives the information on race, the new law will not be allowed to go into effect. The problem for Texas is that voters do not have to indicate race when registering to vote and the designation of Hispanic for driver’s licenses has only been available since 2009 so the racial information is incomplete.

The letter explains that the state has volunteered to use its Spanish surname list of voters to help compile the race data for each county in order to separate Hispanics from the list of other racial categories and determine their number within the state.

Once the information is received from Texas, the federal government’s 60-day review process will begin before preclearance of the new law can be decided.

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