The Texas Department of Public Safety has declared that, effective immediately, voters must show identification before they’re allowed to cast a ballot in state and local elections.
The declaration, announced in a press release, came mere hours after the Supreme Court of the United States struck down a key provision in The Voting Rights Act of 1965 that prohibits certain states from changing voting laws without first gaining approval from the federal government or in federal court.
“With today’s decision, the State’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government,” said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Tuesday’s 5-4 ruling vanished Section 4, which established a formula that decides which states must gain pre-clearance before changing their voting laws. The nation’s highest court found it unconstitutional because the formula is based on data from the civil rights era that does not take contemporary population and demographic trends into account.
This was the heart of a contentious fight between the Obama Administration and nine mostly southern states, including Texas. In 2011, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 14, a GOP-backed voter ID law that the federal government shot down using preclearance under Section 5 as a defense.
That section, which was upheld Tuesday, gives the federal government the power of preclearance. However, with the formula that determines which states must get the federal OK now suspended, Section 5 has effectively lost its teeth.
Abbott sued the federal government over its blockage of the voter ID law and redrawn electoral maps. An appeal is pending in the Supreme Court. However, the state’s now accelerated implementing these stalled decisions after Tuesday’s historic ruling.
“Today’s ruling ensures that Texas is no longer one of just a few states that must seek approval from the federal government before its election laws can take effect,” Abbott said.
Rene Martinez, the director of the northeast district of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the ruling is a big blow to the 1.3 million Hispanics of voting age. He said he's concerned that redrawn maps and other decisions could result in minorities being pushed out of the political process here.
"It sets us back. It's regressive and a lot of us do not have a lot of faith in what's going to happen," he said. "It opens the door for a lot of repressive action on the part of legislators and the governor."
But those who favor more state control of election statutes applaud the ruling. They say it will allow states to further legitimize the democratic process on their own terms without the opinion of the federal government.
"Today's ruling by the United States Supreme Court is a clear victory for federalism and the states. Texas may now implement the will of the people without being subject to outdated and unnecessary oversight and the overreach of federal power," said Gov. Rick Perry in a prepared statement.
The DPS release says the state will begin issuing free voter identification cards on Wednesday.
- How to obtain an Election Identification Certificate
- Where to obtain an Election Identification Certificate
- Download the application for a Texas Election Certificate (pdf)
Also accepted at the polls: a Texas driver’s license, a Texas personal identification card, a U.S. passport, a Texas concealed handgun license, U.S. military identification or a U.S. citizenship certificate.
The state’s issuance of the ID cards is to allay the concerns of critics who say the voter ID law is discriminatory toward poor and minority voters who may lack the resources to travel to a DMV office to procure official identification. In fact, the Department of Justice cited that 81 of the state’s 254 counties lack DMV offices when it blocked the law.
Residents will still need to travel to a Texas driver's license office to get the card, which cannot be used as personal identification beyond the polling booth. They'll be valid for six years except for residents older than 70 –– those won't expire.
Quoting directly from the DPS release: “Pursuant to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued today, new voting requirements passed by the Texas Legislature in 2011 will take effect immediately. Photo identification will now be required when voting in elections in Texas.”
News 8's Jason Wheeler contributed to this report