Certain parts of Texas voter ID laws disproportionately prevent minority voters from participating in the democratic process, said Robert Notzon, a lawyer who has spent more than 20 years with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Speaking at a Wednesday event, Notzon discussed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was enacted to ensure government officials could not prevent individuals from voting because of racial or ethnic background. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act enabling states — such as Texas — with histories of discrimination to put previously blocked state voter ID laws into effect.
“A great fantastic portion of (the law) said if you had a jurisdiction prone to discriminate, everything they did that effected voting had to be pre-cleared by the Department of Justice,” Notzon said.
Notzon said these jurisdictions had a choice of submitting to the department for review or filing a suit in the D.C. District Court. The review would determine whether the jurisdiction had a law that infringed on or negatively impacted minority voting rights.
“No jurisdiction has had more objections filed by the Department of Justice than Texas,” Notzon said. “As somebody that lives in Texas, I’m not that surprised, and anybody that lives in Texas that is aware of discrimination in the world might not be surprised.”
The UT chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union hosted the event along with several other student organizations. Chapter President Nali Shah said she wants people to walk away with an informed opinion and a stronger sense of connection to the issue.
“One thing that we felt was essential to cover was voting rights, because the entire political system is premised off of the idea that every citizen votes,” Shah said. “It’s one of the basic values of our democracy.”
Following Notzon’s lecture, students discussed the topic in groups and participated in a Q&A.
“We wanted them to interact with a lawyer who’s handling the case directly to be able to ask more academic questions and also the more personal questions,” Shah said.
Plan II and IRG sophomore Blaine Finsten said he was interested in attending the event because of his class Black Freedom Movement, which covers past and present voter ID laws. Finsten said voting is important, and even participated in canvassing for candidates last year.
“There’s been a lot of initiatives that have been successful historically of getting large numbers of people out to vote,” Finstein said. “When you can get people to vote, you can enact change.” Finstein said.