Houston, Texas—Yesterday, the Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund and Black college students at Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern universities filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit to prevent the implementation of a discriminatory photo ID law, and defend the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act. 

In the lawsuit, Texas v. Holder, Texas asks a federal court to approve, under the Section 5 preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, one of the most restrictive government-issued photo identification laws in the country.  In the alternative, Texas asks the court to strike down Section 5, the heart of the Voting Rights Act, as unconstitutional. 

Texas previously asked the United States Department of Justice to approve its photo ID law.  But just last week, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division blocked Texas from enforcing its new law, contending that the law would disproportionately affect eligible voters of color, who are more likely to lack accepted forms of photo ID than eligible white voters.

“Many of our student members voted in previous elections in Texas using the only form of identification they had—a state-issued student ID—which would no longer be acceptable under Texas’s proposed photo ID law,” said Christina Sanders, Director of the Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund. “While a student ID will not satisfy Texas’s proposed ID measure, a concealed handgun license will.  Section 5 protects against the implementation of this type of law, which threatens to disfranchise many students of color who seek to exercise their protected right to vote.”

LDF previously urged the Department of Justice during the preclearance comment process to reject Texas’s photo ID measure after the Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund determined that many students at historically Black colleges in Texas, like Prairie View A&M an TSU, would be stripped of their voting rights because they do not have and cannot easily obtain a Texas state-issued identification card other than their student ID cards. 

“Our clients seek to join this case to illustrate the discriminatory nature of Texas’s photo ID measure, and the true costs and burdens of obtaining the underlying documents necessary to secure Texas’s so-called ‘free’ photo ID,” said Natasha Korgaonkar, LDF Assistant Counsel.  “Our experience teaches us that a student’s ability to pay a fee should not determine whether they can vote.”

“Fortunately, Section 5 serves as our democracy’s checkpoint by preventing discriminatory voting changes from being implemented,” said John Payton, LDF President and Director-Counsel.  “Texas’s discriminatory photo ID measure demonstrates precisely why, in the face of persisting obstacles for minority voters, Section 5 is still necessary.”

Voter ID laws in Texas, and in other states, disproportionately weaken the voting strength of voters of color.  Nationally, only 8% of white voting age citizens, but 25% of African American voting age citizens, lack a government-issued photo ID.  As a result, thousands of college students across Texas, which is home to several historically Black colleges and universities, risk being denied their voting rights.  

Texas’ voter ID law is part of an assault that several states are waging on the voting rights of people of color, recently chronicled in LDF’s report Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America, available by clicking here.