UPDATED: Judge strikes down state's voter ID law; law still in effect for Nov. 4 election

[UPDATED Oct. 14, 9 a.m.]

On Oct. 9, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled the state's voter identification law is unconstitutional, but it was unclear how that ruling would affect the Nov. 4 election and early voting, which begins Oct. 20.

Because Ramos did not issue a final judgment on the ruling, the Fifth Circuit Court ruled Oct. 14 the state's voter ID law would remain in effect for the Nov. 4 election and early voting.

According to the ruling, "This is not a run-of-the-mill case; instead, it is a voting case decided on the eve of the election. ... Thus, the value of preserving the status quo—[the state's voter ID law]—here is much higher than in most other contexts."

"We are pleased that the appeals court has unanimously agreed that Texas' voter ID law should remain in effect for the upcoming election, which is the right choice in order to avoid voter confusion," said Lauren Bean, deputy communications director for the Texas Attorney General's office. "The state will continue to defend the voter ID law and remains confident that the district court's misguided ruling will be overturned on the merits. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter ID laws are a legal and sensible way to protect the integrity of elections."

A statement from the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, chaired by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said the Fifth Circuit Court's Oct. 14 ruling could hurt more than 608,000 registered voters who could be denied the right to cast a ballot in the November election because they do not have proper identification.

"The voters affected by [the Oct. 14] wrong-headed decision are disproportionately low-income, African-American or Hispanic, and state officials have made no real effort to ensure they can get the identification needed to participate in November's election," Watson said. "Texas has an abysmal record of voter turnout, in part because those in control of the Capitol want it that way."

Voters will need to present one of the following forms of identification to vote:

  • Texas driver's license

  • Texas personal ID card issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety

  • Texas concealed handgun license issued by DPS

  • U.S. military ID card with photo

  • U.S. certificate of citizenship or U.S. certificate of naturalization showing photo

  • U.S. passport book or card

  • Election ID certificate (EIC)

With the exception of the U.S. citizenship certificate, the identification must be current or have expired no more than 60 days before being presented for voter qualification at the polling location. For more information, visit www.votetexas.gov.

[Posted Oct. 10]

U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled Oct. 9 that the state's voter identification law is unconstitutional.

The voter ID law, approved in May 2011 by the Texas Legislature as Senate Bill 14, required voters to present one form of photo ID before casting their ballots. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Legislature's decision in 2013.

Lauren Bean, deputy communications director for the Texas Attorney General's office, issued a statement announcing the state would appeal Ramos' ruling immediately to the Fifth Circuit Court to resolve the matter quickly and avoid voter confusion in the upcoming election.

"The Attorney General's office will take all legal action necessary to avoid voter confusion and ensure that the law is in effect for the upcoming election," she 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."

In her ruling Ramos said the state's photo ID law "creates a substantial burden on the fundamental right to vote, has a discriminatory effect and purpose, and constitutes a poll tax." According to the ruling, "The court holds that SB 14 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."

It is unclear if the ruling will affect early voting, which begins Oct. 20. In Ramos' ruling, it indicates an injunction would be issued to determine that the voter ID law would not be used for the upcoming election. As of Oct. 10, no injunction has been filed.

In an Oct. 10 advisory, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott requested the injunction and asked that it be filed to clear up confusion about whether voters need to show a photo ID for the Nov. 4 election and early voting Oct. 20–31.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement Oct. 9, saying he is heartened by Ramos' decision.

"[It] affirms our position that the Texas voter identification law unfairly and unnecessarily restricts access to the franchise," he said. "Even after the Voting Rights Act was seriously eroded last year, we vowed to continue enforcing the remaining portions of that statute as aggressively as possible. This ruling is an important vindication of those efforts."

For updates, visit www.texasattorneygeneral.gov or www.texas.gov.

By Amy Denney

Managing Editor, Austin metro

Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition as well as covering transportation in the Austin metro. She is now managing editor for the 10 publications in the Central Texas area from Georgetown to New Braunfels. She enjoys spending time with her husband, son and two cats.