by Erin Eriksen, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
“Therefore, this Court holds, again, that SB 14 was passed with a discriminatory purpose in violation of Section 2, of the Voting Rights Act”(Ramos, 2017).
I was sitting in on the House Elections Committee hearing today (April 10) prepared to hear HB 2481, the House’s version of the Voter ID Bill SB 5, when it started to flutter around the room that a U.S. District Court (again) made a ruling that the Voter ID Law (SB 14) passed in 2011 by the Texas Legislature was found to have intentionally discriminated against minority voters. My first thought after, thank you Judge Ramos, was oh my gosh we’re in Inception. But instead of a world that included that cool, fold-in-on-itself, bendy thing in the movie, the court reminded Texas yet again that our voter ID law, from its inception, is intentionally discriminatory and that SB 5/HB 2481 as it stands would not sufficiently rectify the issues created in 2011.
I trained as a poll watcher before the 2016 Election and became familiar with the court-ordered remedies put in place to alleviate this harsh Voter ID law. There were seven acceptable forms of ID voters could present, but if one could not present any form of ID at the time of voting, a voter could bring a supporting form of ID (such as a utility bill or a bank statement) and declare a Reasonable Impediment. Stemming from an earlier court order, multiple options were allowed under the Reasonable Impediment Declaration, ranging from lack of transportation or a loss of ID, to an option to add “other.”
To comply with the prior court’s decision, Texas lawmakers unveiled this year’s SB 5 seeking to codify such procedures put in place before the 2016 General Election, with some notable changes. One of the most glaring changes that SB5 would enshrine is that filing a false Reasonable Impediment Declaration under SB 5 would be considered a 3rd Degree Felony, punishable by anywhere between 2 and 10 years in prison. Several people testified in the House Elections Committee this evening that the severity of this punishment itself would be a form of voter intimidation. Election laws are complicated and we saw during this past election, that not only were the voters confused by the initial court-ordered remedies, but so were poll workers and Precinct Judges.
Voting Rights advocates during both hearings in the House and Senate offered up amendments to SB 5/HB 2481 that would seek to better enfranchise voters, while still allowing for ID regulations. HB 2481 was not passed out of committee tonight and it will be interesting to see what form it finally takes when it does hit the House Floor. I would encourage all of those reading to check out the video of the from the April 10 House Elections Committee meeting because it showcases some pretty amazing members of the House of Representatives advocating for voting rights, using some spot-on analogies to boot.