AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A flurry of legal activity this year could affect how 14 million registered Texas voters cast ballots in November’s presidential election.
In New Orleans, a federal appeals court on Tuesday is set to re-examine the constitutionality of Texas’ tough voter ID law. The U.S. Supreme Court could still ultimately decide whether it should be enforced. A separate lawsuit in San Antonio accuses Texas of defying federal “motor voter” rules.
The legal questions and timing of the cases are different, but all could have an impact on how Texans vote. Here are some answers to key questions about the cases:
Q: Where does Texas’ voter ID law stand?
A: The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will consider the state’s 2011 law requiring voters show picture identification at the polls during a hearing Tuesday.
A federal judge in Corpus Christi declared the law unconstitutional in October 2014, likening it to a poll tax and saying it had a discriminatory effect on poor and minority voters by making it more difficult for them to cast ballots.
Last year, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court found that the law violated parts of the federal Voting Rights Act, designed to prevent state and local governments from discriminating against minorities. A majority of the 15-member court later decided that the full court should consider the case.
That’s a potential blow for the Obama administration, which used the U.S. Justice Department to challenge Texas’ law as a way to fight ballot-box restrictions passed by conservative statehouses nationwide. But top Texas officials are cheering their chance to defend a measure they say ensures the integrity of their state’s elections.
Q: Aren’t Texas voters already required to show ID?
A: Yes. The 2014 decision came so close to Election Day that a panel of the 5th Circuit ruled that Texas’ voter ID law could be enforced that year to avoid voter confusion.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that order and it remains in effect after the court last month rejected an emergency appeal that sought to block the law’s enforcement for the November vote.
The plaintiffs argued that possible confusion surrounding the law ahead of the 2014 election stopped being relevant after balloting that year.
The high court said that it is aware of “the time constraints the parties confront in light of the scheduled elections.” If the full appeals court has not issued a ruling by July 20, the court said, it would entertain a renewed emergency appeal over the voter ID law.
Q: How did we get this far?
A: Texas’ law requires residents to show one of seven forms of approved identification, including concealed handgun licenses. But, unlike such laws passed in other states with conservative legislatures, Texas’ rules are especially strict because they don’t recognize items such as university IDs from college students.
Supporters say the law prevents electoral fraud, but opponents maintain that its true intent is to make voting tougher for older, poor and minority voters who tend to support Democrats and are less likely to have the state-mandated forms of identification.
While there have been anecdotal reports of adverse effects on Texas elections held while enforcing the law, there weren’t widespread issues with people being unable to cast ballots because they lacked proper identification.
Q: Are there other legal challenges to voting in Texas?
A: Yes. A challenge filed in federal court in San Antonio on March 14 by the Texas Civil Rights Project alleged that the state is defying federal “motor voter” laws by failing to register voters who renew their driver’s licenses online.
The suit includes a group of Texas residents who say they believed they had updated their voter registration information while using a Department of Public Safety driver’s license website — and discovered that they had failed to do so only when trying to vote, after it was too late to make the necessary changes.
The case alleges that Texas received more than 1,800 complaints from voters about similar issues from September 2013 to May 2015. State Attorney General Ken Paxton has said he believes Texas is in full compliance with the “motor voter” law, which is designed to make registration easier.