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Texas must accept wide range of voter ID, judge orders

Softening a strict Texas voter ID law that had been found to be discriminatory, a federal judge Wednesday ordered the state to accept a wide range of identification for the November general election.

Texans without a photo ID will be able to cast ballots by showing bank statements, utility bills and other forms of identification, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos said, accepting without change an agreement over how to handle the Nov. 8 election that had been reached last week by state officials, the U.S. Justice Department and civil rights groups.

The change in rules was required after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that the Republican-favored voter ID law, enacted in 2011, discriminated against minority voters.

Civil rights leaders praised the interim rules as a necessary step to preserve the rights of an estimated 600,000 registered Texas voters who lack a state-issued photo ID.

“This hard-fought victory is good news, and a big step in our continuing fight to push back against discriminatory laws that have no place in the Lone Star State,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, however, said the new rules were a short-term fix created under a tight deadline with an election approaching.

“This case is not over,” Paxton spokesman Marc Rylander said. “We are working hard on saving all the important aspects of our voter ID law. … We continue evaluating all options moving forward, including an appeal of the 5th Circuit’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Ramos’ work in the case isn’t over, either. In addition to ordering the Corpus Christi judge to establish acceptable voter ID rules for November, the 5th Circuit ordered Ramos to determine whether the Texas law was intentionally discriminatory.

The Texas law required registered voters to present a limited number of government-issued identification to vote, including a driver’s license, U.S. passport or Texas license to carry a handgun.

Under the new rules, acceptable forms of ID for the Nov. 8 election will include a voter registration certificate, birth certificate, current utility bill, bank statement, government check or any other government document that includes a registered voter’s name and address. Expired driver’s licenses also are OK if they are less than four years past the expiration date.

Voters who have a government-issued ID still must show it to cast a ballot, Ramos ordered.

Voters who present alternative IDs will have to fill out and sign a declaration indicating why they couldn’t acquire a government ID, such as a lack of transportation, disability, illness, work schedule or theft.

Election workers cannot question the validity of a claimed impediment, Ramos said.

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