District judge strikes down Texas voter ID law

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U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos struck down Texas’ controversial voter ID law Thursday, less than two weeks before the start of early voting for November elections.

Senate Bill 14 required voters to show photo identification at the polls. Gov. Rick Perry signed it into law in 2011, drawing criticism from people such as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who said Texas would be his first stop at overturning voter ID laws, and state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who testified against the law. 

In her ruling, Ramos called the testimony an example of “Texas’ racially charged communities, the power of the polls, and the use of election devices to defeat the interests of the minority population.”

Ramos equated SB14 to a poll tax and said the law used the excuse of preventing voter impersonation to prevent minorities from voting. She acknowledged that while the Supreme Court does not recognize voter ID laws as poll taxes, other courts have come to the same conclusion as she did. 

“The Court holds that SB14 creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose,” Ramos’ ruling states.

Ramos ruled that Texas would return to pre-voter ID laws in election, where voters simply had to present a registration card.

“There has been a clear and disturbing pattern of discrimination in the name of combating voter fraud in Texas,” Ramos’ ruling states.

Early voting will begin on Oct. 20 and Election Day is Nov. 4.

While passed in 2011, the law did not go into effect until after a 2013 Supreme Court ruling struck down a section of the Voting Rights Act.

Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for the Attorney General Greg Abbott, said the state would appeal the ruling and will seek a reversal before voting starts.

“The State of Texas will immediately appeal and will urge the 5th Circuit to resolve this matter quickly to avoid voter confusion in the upcoming election,” Bean said. “The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter ID laws are constitutional, so we are confident the Texas law will be upheld on appeal.”

Abbott’s gubernatorial opponent, state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, praised Ramos’ decision in a statement.

“This is great news for democracy,” Davis said. “I call on Attorney General Greg Abbott to drop his defense of a law that a court has now called a ‘poll tax’ and ‘discriminatory’ against African-Americans and Hispanics.”