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2012-07-26

Texas defends 'integrity of ballot box' in federal court

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Not surprisingly, Texas Senator John Cornyn had some choice words to say about Attorney General Eric Holder with regard to the federal trial that took place recently in Washington, DC. His remarks came during a Wednesday, July 11, conference call with print and media reporters.

In response to the Texas Legislature's approval of a voter ID bill last session, the US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the State of Texas. The case was tried before a three-judge panel in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals - the second highest court in the land. The judges are expected to rule later this summer.

Since the case has been expedited, the US Supreme Court will likely hear the appeal this fall. However, should the Supreme Court rule in favor of the State of Texas, it appears unlikely the voting identification component would be in place for November's General Election.

During the trial, Texas attorneys argued that the DOJ lacked authority to block the legally approved voter ID law. Texas' voter ID law requires voters to show a valid, government-issued photo ID at the polls. The identification can be in the form of a driver's license, military ID, concealed handgun permit or a separate ID card issued by the state specifically for voting purposes. College and university IDs would not be accepted, however.

On the other hand, civil rights groups contend the law discriminates against minorities and violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

"I consider this lawsuit a remarkable intrusion of the federal government into the sovereignty of the state," Cornyn said.

To a question regarding a perceived inability of Texas to prove voter fraud had existed, he said, "This issue has already been litigated at the state legislative level. The federal government cannot substitute its judgment."

Cornyn continued, "Because the federal government has abdicated its responsibility with regard to both border security and voter fraud, states must step in and fill the voids."

In an address on Tuesday, July 10, before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People convention in Houston, Holder likened the voter ID requirement to a poll tax. Www.freedictionary.com defines a poll tax as "a tax of a fixed amount per person and payable as a requirement for the right to vote."

An outraged Cornyn equated Holder's characterization as "playing the race card. I'm sorry to say that (the AG's) remarks were completely inappropriate and misleading. He has once again defamed my state - and our state legislature - by equating our commonsense voter ID law with a poll tax."

Cornyn continued, "By invoking the specter of Jim Crow racism, the attorney general is playing the lowest form of identity politics.

Mr. Holder knows better. His rhetoric is irresponsible and a disgrace to the office of the Attorney General. Shame on him."

Cornyn also pointed out, "The Supreme Court of the United States upheld similar laws in other states."

According to www.ncsl.org, 31 states currently require voter identification with 15 requiring photo identification. In 2008, the Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter ID law, after which Texas' law was modeled.

According to Cornyn, 70 percent of polled Independents, Republicans and Democrats favor laws that "mitigate the possibility of voter fraud.

"By making war on Texas' voter ID law, AG Holder is serving once again as a political proxy and political arm of the Obama Administration," he charged. "By equating the law with a poll tax, he continues to take the low road."

Cornyn also took exception that Texas must continually kowtow to Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act because of past instances of discrimination.

As he explained, Texas must "ask permission" of the DOJ before implementing voting changes - or even changing electoral voting lines.

Noting that only nine states and portions of other states fall under Section 5, Cornyn said, "Section 5 worked to remedy historical discrimination. States must run elections consistent with federal laws. In Texas, all races and ethnicities have the right to vote and they exercise it vigorously."

Also coming under fire - particularly from US Rep. Lamar Smith - is the DOJ's decision to hire an "explicitly Democratic data firm" to conduct analysis on the Texas voter identification law. According to court documents, the justice department's decision to block the implementation of the Texas law was based, in part, on the analysis provided by Catalist, a firm described by The Atlantic magazine as a "big Democratic data warehouse."

The DOJ has not yet responded to a letter sent by Smith in which he expressed concern about the credibility of the department's case and the appropriateness of Catalist's involvement.

Smith said, "It is an injustice that the justice department has refused to answer questions about why it hired a partisan firm to analyze the Texas voter ID law. The administration's lawsuit relies on information provided by Catalist, a data firm that works primarily on behalf of Democratic campaigns and candidates."

According to Smith, Catalist's client list includes the Democratic Congressional and Senatorial Campaign Committees, the Democratic Governors Association, Obama for America, and at least 43 Democratic members of Congress. He asked the DOJ to explain why they are paying a partisan firm to analyze data in the lawsuit against Texas. "The department's refusal to produce answers raises suspicions about what they have to hide," Smith said.

"Voter fraud is a real problem that undermines the integrity of all elections. If you need a photo ID to board a plane or enter a federal building, why should the same standard not apply to the exercise one of our most cherished and valued freedoms? Efforts by states to guard against voter fraud should be encouraged, not demonized by the Department of Justice."