- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas urged the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to let the state enforce voter ID at the polls starting next week and not restore a lower-court ruling that found the law unconstitutional and the equivalent of a poll tax.

A decision could come soon as Friday. Early voting begins Monday, and election officials statewide are anxiously awaiting official word on whether voters must present photo identification.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who’s favored in the gubernatorial race, reminded justices in a 300-page briefing that the court in recent weeks has blocked lower rulings in Wisconsin, North Carolina and Ohio that also would have changed voting procedures for the Nov. 4 election.

Last week, the U.S. Justice Department and minority-rights groups challenging the Texas law - which critics contend is the toughest voter ID measure in the U.S. - prevailed in a federal court in Corpus Christi. But a federal appeals court in New Orleans put that victory on hold Tuesday, determining that it’s too close to Election Day to change the rules.

Abbott took aim at the lower-court finding that the voter ID law was passed in 2011 by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature with the intent of racially discriminating against minority voters.

“A legislature is not racist for enacting a voting requirement that the Supreme Court has found to serve legitimate state interests,” Abbott wrote.

The Supreme Court has upheld voter ID laws in other states. But the office of outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has argued that the Texas law has the harshest effect on minorities. The Justice Department has said it will prevent 600,000 registered voters from casting a ballot in person because they lack one of seven forms of approved ID - a list that includes concealed handgun licenses but not college student IDs, which are accepted in other states with similar measures.

Abbott contends the number of allegedly impacted voters is flawed, saying that trying to pinpoint a figure using voter databases is a “fool’s errand.”

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, called the law an “unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.” The New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals did not rule on the merits of the law.

Texas has enforced voter ID in elections since the nation’s high court struck down last summer the heart of the Voting Rights Act, which had prevented Texas and eight other states with histories of discrimination from changing election laws without permission.

Earlier Thursday, state elections officials announced that a record 14 million people are registered to vote.


Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

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