The court fight over Texas’s voter ID requirement began not long after it was passed back in 2011. And we learned this week it likely won’t be resolved before the 2018 elections.
That means more confusion for voters over the ever-shifting status of the law.
On Tuesday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected by a vote of 10-4 a motion by the law’s challengers that all 14 judges on the court should consider the state’s appeal. Texas is appealing an August ruling by a federal judge that a revamped version of the law still discriminates against blacks and Hispanics.
The ruling means that the appeal will instead first be heard by a panel of three judges. Whichever side loses is likely to then appeal to the full 5th Circuit, eating up additional months.
Judge Jerry Smith, who voted in favor of the motion, wrote in his dissent that the ruling “will make it impossible for a decision to be issued before some, if not all, of the 2018 elections are history.” Between statewide primaries and general elections, as well as local elections, Texas is due to see voting in February, March, May, October, and November of next year.
Texas, backed by the U.S. Justice Department, opposed having the case go straight to the full court.
In May, Texas passed an updated version of its ID law, which allowed people to vote without acceptable ID if they sign an affidavit, on penalty of perjury, saying they couldn’t get an ID. In August, Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled that this didn’t do enough to fix the problems with the original ID law, which several courts had ruled racially discriminatory. Soon afterwards, a panel of appeals court judges stayed Gonzales Ramos’s order pending the state’s appeal.
Even before that, the ID requirement had been blocked then reimposed numerous times as courts have issued new rulings. All this back and forth appears to have led to confusion among Texas voters about just what the rules are — a problem exacerbated by the state’s lackluster public education campaigns.
For last November’s election, voters without acceptable photo ID could still vote by signing an affidavit, similar to the law passed in May. But nearly 60 percent of non-voters surveyed by a University of Houston study wrongly believed they needed a photo ID to vote.
With the case now likely to drag on into 2019, that kind of confusion is set to continue.