The U.S. Department of Justice has denied “preclearance” for S.B. 14, the so-called “voter ID” bill. Had it been precleared, S.B. 14 would have required a voter to present one form of acceptable identification to an election officer at the polling place in order to vote and would have implemented procedures for the identification process. The Texas Legislature passed the bill during the 2011 regular session, and it would have been effective for elections held in 2012.

What is “preclearance?” The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 codifies the U.S. Constitution’s Fifteenth Amendment guarantee that no person shall be denied the right to vote on account of race or color. Section 5 of the Act requires state and local governments in certain parts of the country to get federal approval, known as preclearance, before implementing any changes in their voting procedures.

Under Section 5, a covered governmental entity must demonstrate to federal authorities that a voting change does not have a racially discriminatory purpose. Preclearance is obtained by submitting a voting change to the U.S. Department of Justice, and is given if the U.S. attorney general approves it.

Rejecting preclearance for S.B. 14, the attorney general’s office stated that:

Because we conclude that the state has failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that the proposed law will not have a retrogressive effect, we do not make any determination as to whether the state has established that the proposed changes were adopted with no discriminatory purpose.

In a parallel attempt at preclearance, the Texas attorney general had previously filed suit in federal court in Washington, D.C. That suit could lead to judicial preclearance of S.B. 14. In addition, the attorney general has added a claim that the Voting Rights Act itself should be invalidated. In any case, it is highly unlikely that such a decision would come prior to the upcoming spring elections, if at all.

If the bill is not precleared, it is likely that the legislature will attempt to craft another bill in 2013.

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