JUSTICE DEPARTMENT GIVES TEXAS JUSTICE AND BLOCKS THE VOTER ID BILL

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Attorney General Greg Abbott took the dispute over Texas’ maps to federal court in Washington. Photo: Harry Cabluck, AP / HC

The Justice Department’s civil rights division on Monday blocked Texas from enforcing a new law requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls, contending that the rule would disproportionately suppress turnout among eligible Hispanic voters.

The decision, which follows a similar move in December blocking a law in South Carolina, brought the Obama administration deeper into the politically and racially charged fight over a wave of new voting restrictions, enacted largely by Republicans in the name of combating voter fraud.

In a letter to the Texas state governmentThomas E. Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, said the state had failed to meet its requirement, under the Voting Rights Act, to show that the measure would not disproportionately disenfranchise registered minority voters.

“Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card,” Mr. Perez wrote, “and that disparity is statistically significant.”

Texas has roughly 12.8 million registered voters, of whom about 2.8 million are Hispanic. The state had supplied two sets of data comparing its voter rolls to a list of people who had valid state-issued photo identification cards — one for September and the other in January — showing that Hispanic voters were 46.5 percent to 120 percent more likely to lack such identification.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY TODD WISEMAN / TEXAS TRIBUNE

Under the Voting Rights Act, certain jurisdictions that have a history of suppressing minority voting — like Texas — must show that any proposed change to voting rules would not have a disproportionate effect on minority voters, even if there is no evidence of discriminatory intent. Such “preclearance” can be granted either by the Justice Department or by a panel of federal judges.

Texas officials had argued that they would take sufficient steps to mitigate any impact of the law, including giving free identification cards to voters who lacked them. But the Justice Department said the proposed efforts were not enough, citing the cost of obtaining birth certificates or other documents necessary to get the cards and the bureaucratic difficulties of that process.

In anticipation that the Obama administration might not clear the law, Texas officials had already asked a panel of judges to allow them to enforce the law. A hearing in that case is scheduled for this week, and the Justice Department filed a copy of its letter before the court.

The offices of Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Representative Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, criticized the Justice Department, saying that “the people of Texas overwhelmingly supported” the law to prevent fraudulently cast votes from canceling out legitimate ones.

“This is an abuse of executive authority and an affront to the citizens of Texas,” Mr. Smith said in a statement. “It’s time for the Obama administration to learn not to mess with Texas.”

Under the state’s existing system, voters are issued certificates when they register that enable them to vote. But last year, Mr. Perry signed a law that would replace that system with one requiring voters to present one of several photographic cards at their polling station. The approved documents include a state-issued driver’s license or identification, a federal military card, a passport, a citizenship certificate or a concealed gun license issued by Texas. Other forms of identification, like student identification cards, would not count.

The measure was part of a wave of new voting restrictions passed in states around the country, mostly by Republicans following their sweeping victories in the 2010 elections.

Supporters argue that the restrictions are necessary to prevent fraud. Critics say there is no evidence of significant amounts of in-person voter impersonation fraud — the kind addressed by photo identification requirements — and contend the restrictions are a veiled effort to suppress turnout by legitimate voters who tend to vote disproportionally for Democrats.

READ MORE: THE NEW YORK TIMES

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