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Texas agrees to ease voter ID law; plan now goes to federal judge

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton agreed Wednesday to a plan that would soften the state’s strict voter identification law, but his office said the concession is a short-term fix and that the state will consider an appeal to the country’s highest court.

An agreement between Paxton and a broad coalition that includes the U.S. Justice Department and several civil rights groups will allow additional forms of ID to be used to cast ballots in November. The proposal was submitted to U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos for her stamp of approval, which is expected soon.

Election law expert Richard Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, said the agreement amounts to a “darn good deal for plaintiffs.”

The agreement would let would-be voters show several forms of ID that go beyond those on the narrow list that was permitted under the GOP-championed Texas law. The newly allowable forms of ID will include utility bills, bank statements, paychecks or voter registration cards.

Opponents of the state’s voter ID law are celebrating the agreement, and some are doing so with scathing words for Republican state leaders who crafted and defended the strict voter ID law outlined in 2011’s Senate Bill 14.

Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a progressive political action committee, called the proposal to settle Veasey v. Abbott, which is named for U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey and Gov. Greg Abbott, “a slap down” to Abbott, Paxton and other state leaders “who have imposed a discriminatory voting law on Texans for years.”

The agreement presented to Ramos “reverses a discriminatory voting law passed to suppress Texas voters and puts in its place fair, practical, and reasonable guidelines that protect the integrity of elections without disenfranchising American citizens,” Angle said in a written statement.

Chad Dunn, a Houston lawyer who has been one of the lead attorneys in the lawsuit against the state law, said the agreement marks “a critical leap forward.”

“The provisions we’ve agreed to now are critical safeguards for voters,” he told The Associated Press.

The proposal comes almost two weeks after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that SB 14 had a discriminatory effect and needs to be remedied. The 9-6 decision of the full appeals court found that Texas’ voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act, particularly Section 2, which prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, skin color and ethnicity.

But even with the sign-off from Paxton on the agreement, the battle over voter ID is not likely to end any time soon.

Paxton spokesman Marc Rylander said the attorney general’s office is “working hard on saving all the important aspects of our voter ID law.”

“Given the time constraints of the November elections and the direction of the Fifth Circuit, today’s filings pertain to a proposed interim remedy while we continue evaluating all options moving forward, including an appeal of the Fifth Circuit’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Rylander said in a written statement.

Abbott’s office referred questions on the issue to Paxton on Wednesday, but the governor has been a consistent proponent of the voter ID law since its inception.

After the 5th Circuit’s ruling, Abbott said: “The 5th Circuit rightly reversed the lower court’s finding of discriminatory purpose, but wrongly concluded the law had a discriminatory effect. Voter fraud is real, and it undermines the integrity of the election process. As Attorney General I prosecuted cases against voter fraud across the State, and Texas will continue to make sure there is no illegal voting at the ballot box.”

The agreement in Texas is one of several recent blows across the nation to voter ID laws.

North Dakota’s voter identification requirements were halted Monday after a federal judge sided with a group of American Indians who said the law unfairly burdens them.

Also, the Raleigh News & Observer reported that North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said Tuesday that he won’t represent the state in an appeal of a recent court ruling that overturned his state’s voter ID law. Cooper, a Democrat running for governor, drew fire from his opponent, GOP Gov. Pat McCrory, for refusing to defend the law, which resembles Texas’ law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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