- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2012

The Justice Department blocked Texas’ new voter-identification law Monday, arguing that it targets the state’s Hispanics — and igniting yet another clash between President Obama’s administration and a GOP-run state.

Texas is the second state to have its voter-ID law rejected by the Justice Department, which has cast a critical eye on Republican-controlled legislatures as they move to combat both illegal immigration and voter fraud.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said he was using the federal government’s power under the Voting Rights Act to block the state’s law. He said the data show that Hispanics could be twice as likely as other groups to lack the right kind of identification.

“Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card issued by [the state’s Department of Public Safety], and that disparity is statistically significant,” he said in a six-page letter to Texas officials.

Texas already had asked a federal court to hear the case, so a judge will have the final say.

But the timing of the administration’s move left some Republicans questioning the motives.

“Today’s decision reeks of politics,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and former judge who said the Justice Department is trying to “carry water for the president’s re-election campaign.”

The issue is likely to play as well on the Republican campaign trail, where presidential candidates have said they would drop objections to voter-identification and state immigration laws.

At stake is the thorny question of which is a bigger problem in the country: voter fraud or vote suppression.

While there have been high-profile cases of invalid registrations, civil rights groups argue that there is little evidence of fraud at the polls. They say the bigger problem is the enactment of laws that make voting tougher.

“This new law is a clear-cut attempt to suppress minority votes and stymie minority participation in our democracy,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Texas State Conference, who cheered the Justice Department’s decision.

But Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said voter fraud is a real danger and that his own office has won 50 convictions for election fraud in the past decade. He said the Justice Department has prosecuted more than 100 cases in that time.

He listed cases including a woman who submitted her dead mother’s ballot, a person who voted twice on Election Day and an election worker who fraudulently cast a ballot under the name of a voter who shared his last name.

Texas is one of a handful of states that, because of past discrimination practices, is required to submit new voting changes to the Justice Department. The department can block any changes it deems will have an adverse impact on minorities, and only a court can overturn its decisions.

Anticipating a negative review, Texas went to court on its own, seeking a final judgment. That case is pending.

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