The driving force behind a democracy is the voice of the people. In Texas, that voice will be silenced an estimated 600,000 times by the Supreme Court’s upholding of State Bill 41 (SB 41) — a law requiring individuals to provide one of seven forms of approved ID before voting.
Since its implementation in 2011, the law has been questioned multiple times by different levels of government. In 2012, the Justice Department struck down SB 41, stating that it was “enacted with discriminatory purpose.” Since then, the law has been reinstated, struck down again and once again reinstated by a Supreme Court ruling last week that maintained it was too close to the day of election to be changing rules.
Requiring people to present specific forms of ID at the polls when they may not have the resources to attain them will systematically impact and deprive people of color of their basic rights as a citizen. The exclusion of a significant portion of Texas’ population won’t allow the state’s racist past to be undone — Latino and black populations will continue to be targeted by laws when they have no say in who creates them.
The law had previously been rejected by Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, who held that it required financial means from those who did not have an adequate form of ID. She elaborated that the laws were discriminatory against Texas’ African-American and Latino communities, who are disproportionately affected by poverty and are less likely to have the appropriate identification.
The list of approved forms of voter ID include concealed handgun licenses, a driver’s license or an election identification certificate (EIC) but does not include college identification. As a way to compromise, the state of Texas has offered a process in which those in need can take the required documents (such as birth certificates or naturalization papers) to a driver’s license office to receive an EIC for free.
While Texas is attempting to provide the community with adequate resources, the state fails to acknowledge the burden that this puts on voters who have to travel over 200 miles to get to an office or those who do not have the financial means to obtain the required documents. This creates a barrier between the polls and underrepresented communities.
Although Texas lawmakers argue that this law was set in place to avoid cases of voter fraud, those events are extremely rare. According to an article published by the New York Times, the Bush administration spent five years hunting for cases of voter fraud and came up empty-handed. The small number of these events doesn’t warrant or justify the disenfranchising of over 600,000 eligible voters.
Another group that will feel the law’s effect is the transgender community. According to the state of Texas, voters must show an ID with an updated gender marker.
To receive an EIC from a driver’s license office, transgender individuals must present a court order indicating their change of name or gender, a document that costs upward of $20 and that violates the privacy of many individuals.
A study done by the Williams Institute this September shows that 41 percent of transgender citizens who transitioned do not have an updated driver’s license and another 27 percent reported not having any documents to list their current gender.
In the ruling, the Supreme Court didn’t discuss the constitutionality of the law or the effect it would have on the people of Texas. Rather, the court focused on the case’s proximity to Election Day. Because the laws deprive many members of underrepresented communities of their constitutional right to vote, the Supreme Court doesn’t have a valid basis for this decision. The Supreme Court has a responsibility to the people, and this decision fails to uphold the court’s duty to democracy and to the people it is supposed to represent.
The Supreme Court failed to perform its duty by making its decision based on the time constraints of a coming election day rather than the country’s constitution — which is supposed to be its rulebook. Rather than keeping people from the political realm for another election, the court should allow as many people as possible to reach the polls.