A panel of federal judges ruled Tuesday that Texas can keep in place voter ID requirements while the state appeals a lower court decision that last month found the rules intentionally discriminate against minority voters.
The three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled 2-1 that Texas could still enforce an interim order allowing use of the voter ID requirements. The ruling comes as a legal battle continues over the ID rules that state wants for voters.
Texas in 2011 passed a law, SB 14, requiring voters present photo identification, such as a driver’s license, gun permit or passport, when casting a ballot. Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos blocked the law, ruling it was passed to intentionally discriminate against blacks and Latinos.
The state this year passed SB 5, which was designed fix the problems Gonzales Ramos had found with SB 14. But in August, she ruled that SB 5 perpetuated the initial’s law discriminatory features ― a decision Texas is appealing.
SB 5 wasn’t set to go into effect until Jan. 1, 2018, but the ruling by the appeals court panel means its requirements can be used in elections this year.
Texas lawyers argue SB 5 is non-discriminatory because it allows voters to cast a ballot if they lack the required IDs if they present other documents providing their identity and sign a declaration of “reasonable impediment,” swearing under penalty of perjury they could not obtain the required IDs.
The majority opinion by the appeals panel wrote that it was allowing the state to enforce SB 5 for the upcoming elections in order to avoid confusion.
“The state has already spent $2.5 million in 2016 to educate voters about the availability of the SB 5 reasonable-impediment procedures, which were used in the November 2016 general election and local elections this year,” Judges Jerry Smith and Jennifer Elrod wrote. A temporary stay of the ruling by Gonzales Ramos blocking SB 5 while the court considers that decision “will minimize confusion among both voters and trained election officials,” the two judges wrote.
Judges James Graves, Jr. dissented from the court’s ruling, writing the “correct approach would be to stay both the district court’s order and the new legislation.”
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