On Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division blocked Texas from enforcing a new law requiring voters to present photo identification after ruling that the rule would discriminate against Latino voters. The move follows a similar decision late last year to block another voter ID law in South Carolina, the first such law overruled by the Justice Department in nearly two decades. We speak with Ari Berman, a contributing writer for The Nation magazine, who has been extensively covering the issue of voting rights in the United States. He is the author of the book "Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics," just out in paperback. [includes rush transcript]
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AMY GOODMAN: We continue to look at the issue of voting rights. On Monday, the Justice Department’s civil rights division blocked Texas from enforcing a new law requiring voters to present photo ID after ruling the rule would discriminate against Latino voters. The move follows a similar decision late last year to block another voter ID law in South Carolina, the first such law overruled by the Justice Department in nearly two decades.
I’m joined here in New York by Ari Berman, contributing writer for The Nation magazine who’s been extensively covering the issue of voting rights in the United States. He’s also author of the book Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, which is just out in paperback.
Ari, very quickly, what happened? The significance of this Justice Department challenge of the Texas ID law?
ARI BERMAN: Yeah, so Texas passed this law, an emergency designation, so they fast-tracked it through. And what the Justice Department found, according to the state of Texas’s own analysis, anywhere from 600,000 to nearly 800,000 registered voters didn’t have the required ID, and those were disproportionately Hispanic. Moreover, getting that free ID would be very difficult. There’s a cost to getting the ID. A supporting document, such as a birth certificate, costs $22. That’s a poll tax. Not only that, but only 81 of the 254 counties in Texas have a DMV office. And those counties without a DMV office are in predominately Hispanic areas. So it’s not only that people don’t have an ID who are already registered to vote, but obtaining that ID could be very difficult. And that’s why the Justice Department found that Texas’s new law violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
AMY GOODMAN: And this move of the Justice Department, we haven’t seen anything like this in years, going after the issue of voter restriction. How does it affect people in this country differentially?
ARI BERMAN: Well, we haven’t not seen these laws passed in years. I mean, the fact is, since the 2010 election, more than a dozen states controlled by Republicans have passed restrictive voting laws, so that forced the Justice Department to act. The Justice Department has now opposed laws in Texas, in South Carolina and in Florida. Those are three states, but there’s nine or 10 other states that have enacted these laws. And so, they are going after the states where they have a possibility, but they’re not hitting every state, and other states are escaping the Justice Department’s purview and putting these laws into effect for the 2012 election.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about Texas, in particular, being the home of this law.
ARI BERMAN: Well, Texas is such a huge state, and it’s such a diverse state, that what we’re seeing in Texas is an increasingly diverse area. It’s one of four majority minority states in the country. Hispanics, in particular, are a growing political force. And what this ID does is it suppresses the turnout of those minority voters, and it tries to really make sure that white Republicans rule the state, even though Texas is increasingly diverse and increasingly minority.
One rather humorous aspect of the new law that is disturbing is, in Texas, according to the voter ID law, you can vote with a handgun permit, but you can’t vote with a student ID. And that’s the kind of thing that people look at, and they say it makes no sense. But if you look at who owns guns in Texas, they are more likely to be Republicans. If you look at students in Texas, they are more likely to be Democratic or progressive in origin. So this voter ID law is really about ensuring that Texas stays Republican for the next decade, despite its minority growth.
AMY GOODMAN: And what does the Justice Department’s action mean right now?
ARI BERMAN: What it means right now is that it’s blocked. The Texas voter ID law is blocked. But Texas is seeking permission from a D.C. district court. So it’s really up to the D.C. district court to decide what happens to that new law. Now, the attorney general’s office will testify before the D.C. district court, but the district court in D.C. could still decide to grant Texas’s law. Now we don’t know if that will happen, but right now that’s what we’re waiting on.
AMY GOODMAN: The primaries are in a few places today. Among them—and we’re going to go to Birmingham in a minute—but Alabama is one of those who have passed a photo ID law.
ARI BERMAN: Alabama and Mississippi have both passed photo ID laws.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what happens in primaries, for example, today?
ARI BERMAN: In Alabama, I think that law is not in effect on primary day. I believe it doesn’t go into effect until after the 2012 election. Mississippi passed it via referendum in 2011. It hasn’t been implemented yet, either. But those are two states in the South that have passed these laws that will have them in effect, if not for 2012, then for subsequent elections.
AMY GOODMAN: Ari Berman, I want to thank you for being with us, contributing writer for The Nation magazine, author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics. His latest article is in Rolling Stone magazine; it’s called the "GOP War on Voting Targets Swing States."