Justice for Voters in Texas and Florida

A three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on Thursday unanimously rejected Texas’s voter ID law, which required court approval to take effect. The court described the law, known as SB 14, as “the most stringent in the country.”

Under the law, voters who do not have a driver’s license might have to pay $22 to get documents necessary to obtain a state ID card, and some would need to travel 250 miles round-trip to get the card. The court said, “Undisputed record evidence demonstrates that racial minorities in Texas are disproportionally likely to live in poverty and, because SB 14 will weigh more heavily on the poor, the law will likely have retrogressive effect,” reducing the number of minority voters.

In Florida, an election law approved last year has severely restricted voter registration drives by the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote, and other groups. By imposing burdensome and pointless reporting requirements and fines for any infraction, it has had a huge effect in suppressing new voter registrations.

As The Florida Times-Union reported, from July 2011 until this month, only 11,365 more Democrats have registered to vote in the entire state — and since 13,000 registered in one county, the rest of the state lost Democratic voters. In the same block of time before the 2004 and 2008 elections, the average increase in Democratic voters statewide was 209,425.

A federal district judge in Florida temporarily blocked the law in May because it was unconstitutional and announced on Tuesday that he plans to issue a permanent injunction.

Two weeks ago, another three-judge panel of the federal district court in the District of Columbia unanimously rejected part of the Florida law that allowed local supervisors to significantly limit times for early voting, with a disproportionate impact on blacks in five counties of concern to the court. In those in 2008, more than half of black voters cast an early ballot, compared with just over one-fourth of white voters.

These federal courts were careful to respect state sovereignty. But they were also mindful that state laws that suppress minority votes cannot be allowed to stand.