Texas: Texas criticises Eric Holder over voter ID law lawsuit

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Attorney General Ken Paxton defended Texas’s voter ID law in response to the Justice Department lawsuit

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has criticised senior US Attorney General Eric Holder after the Justice Department on Tuesday sued the state over a voter identification law.

The AG said in a statement the DOJ was overstepping its powers.

It follows a controversial Texas law passed in 2011 which requires voters to show photo ID.

In the US, state elections are decided by just over five million people out of a total population of about 300 million.

The Justice Department had argued that the law violates the Voting Rights Act – which requires states with a history of discrimination to get permission from the Justice Department before changing their election laws.

As attorney general, Holder has had an increased role in preserving the rights of minority voters in the US. He has frequently also has spoken out about voter ID laws.

Texas received approval for its law in 2011 from the Justice Department, under Holder’s oversight. But last year, former governor Rick Perry reversed his decision and the new law took effect.

Image copyright Houston Chronicle Image caption The state’s law (above) requires voters to present either a state driver’s licence or a recently issued state ID card (below)

What did the US government say about the law?

“These laws serve no legitimate government interest in the preservation of the integrity of the vote. Such laws divert scarce law enforcement resources from the prevention of voter fraud, contributing to the cynicism and harm that result,” the lawsuit says.

It also argues that Texas is undermining elections by making it more difficult for people of colour to vote.

“Using non-compliance and litigation as levers to undermine the voting rights of people who happen to be minorities and poorer is just wrong,” Ted Cruz, Texas’s junior senator, said.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption Jeff Sessions told a Texas police conference that he hoped Texas could remain a ‘safe haven’ for him and his family

Who’s suing?

Texas claims the law is “much needed” to prevent voter fraud.

Attorney General Ken Paxton has defended the law in response to the Justice Department lawsuit, and said: “Texas taxpayers have already spent nearly $1m defending this law. The Justice Department is now demanding more than $4m [£3.2m] – triple the amount spent defending Texas in its first round of litigation.”

The Lone Star State joins the state of Indiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin in facing lawsuits over voter ID laws.

Senator Ted Cruz – widely seen as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016 – has voiced support for the new law. He said the US government’s federal agencies had “lost the faith of the majority of Texans”.

Image copyright EPA Image caption Those who don’t have the necessary ID will be able to sign an affidavit which they hope will prove their eligibility to vote

Why is the US ‘conspiring’ to defeat the laws?

Last year, President Obama set up a bipartisan task force to investigate whether all states were conducting an adequate ID law.

“We find states are targeting minority and poor voters the most, confusing those voters the most, and suppressing voter turnout,” the President said at the time.

“If we are going to take the same kind of action to protect voting rights for everybody regardless of their race or poverty, then we need a uniform approach to voter ID requirements.”

Congress is currently debating the Violence Against Women Act and the House of Representatives has passed a bill preventing “abusive” domestic violence from being used as a legal defence for voter fraud, the Washington Post reported.

In a bid to appease Republicans, Obama has argued it is important that poll-watchers should be allowed to use mobile technology to do so.

But as all states are currently required to give mobile field offices – and voter-registration sites – in the main swing states, the task has been split between states which agree to allow the mobile law and those which refuse.

What’s the reaction from Texas?

Republican Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives Joe Straus said it was “political stunt to gain political traction”.

“If in fact they have a problem with the voting process, how about developing better voting process or getting to the bottom of this impropriety,” he said.

The local NAACP branch has also attacked the action.

“Our community is always concerned by efforts to suppress the voices of minorities, the elderly, and students, but these laws serve to protect their votes,” the group said in a statement.

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