Why Texas Still Needs the Voting Rights Act

Ninety-eight to nothing, and 390-33. With margins like these, you’d think they were naming a post office. But instead Congress was reaffirming one of the country’s most important civil rights laws.

In 2006, the House and Senate, by a landslide, reauthorized the seminal Voting Rights Act (VRA) for another 25 years, and President George W. Bush signed the bill into law. On Wednesday, in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the validity of Section 5 of that law, which protects minorities’ voting rights by requiring certain states and counties to receive federal clearance if they want to change their voting laws.

As chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and a Texas state representative, I am part of a similar voting rights case in Texas, put on hold pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County: last August, a three-judge federal court in Washington ruled that the 2011 Texas voter ID law was discriminatory and had violated Section 5. That law would have required most Texas voters to use a Department of Public Safety (DPS) issued ID – even though 795,000 registered voters in Texas lacked the mandated ID, and one-third of Texas’ counties have no DPS office for Texans to comply with the law. A license to carry a concealed handgun would have counted, but a student or government worker ID would not have.

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