The Justice Department’s civil rights division on Monday opposed a new Texas law that requires voters to produce a photo ID before casting a ballot because many of the state’s Hispanics don’t have state-issued identification.
Texas followed South Carolina in implementing the new law as a way to reduce voter fraud and ensure that only citizens vote. Both states have now become embroiled in a court battle with federal officials over the requirement.
Critics of voter ID laws say they are the product of Republican-controlled state governments aimed at disenfranchising minority groups that tend to vote Democratic. Backers of such laws, however, counter that the measures are needed to combat voter fraud.
In a letter to Texas officials, Thomas E. Perez said “I cannot conclude that the state has sustained its burden” that the new law does not discriminate. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot, meanwhile, accused the Obama administration of being hostile to such laws.
Voter ID legislation has been passed or offered in 34 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which has labeled the issue “the hottest topic of legislation in the field of elections in 2011.”
As a state with a history of voter discrimination, Texas is required under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to get prior approval from either the Justice Department or the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., before changing its voter laws.
The Justice Department, in a letter to state officials that was filed in the Texas case, said Hispanics in the state were more than twice as likely as non-Hispanics to not have a state-issued driver’s license or photo ID.
Justice Department officials say they are reviewing voter ID laws in other states, according to The Associated Press, but the department has not said which ones.
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