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DOJ-Approved Plan Would Gut Restrictive Voter ID Law In Texas

The state of Texas submitted a proposal to weaken its controversial voter ID law to a federal judge on Wednesday, two weeks after an appeals court concluded the statute discriminated against minority Texans.

The proposal, which has the approval of minority groups who challenged the law and the U.S. Department of Justice, would go into effect for November's elections.

The new rules — which must be approved by a federal judge — would expand the types of ID accepted at the polls and prohibit poll workers from challenging identification presented by voters. Texas would also need to draft a detailed voter education plan November by August 15, the proposal states, and must spend at least $2.5 million in that effort.

The changes would significantly water down the state's voter ID law, which legislators passed in 2011. Considered the most restrictive such law in the country, the list of IDs voters could present at the polls was the shortest of any state.

The original list included only driver's licenses, concealed handgun licenses, military ID cards, U.S. passports or U.S. citizenship certificates. The new version would add a litany of other documents, including a certified birth certificate, utility bill, bank statement, government check or paycheck.

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If a voter lacks photo identification, he or she must would have to fill out a form declaring why. Acceptable reasons include losing a photo ID or having it stolen, lacking transportation to get an ID, disability or illness or lacking a birth certificate needed to get an ID. The rules would bar election officials from asking questions about their identification, and instead requires voters be given a regular ballot.

The Republican-controlled state legislature adopted the voter ID law in an effort to limit voter fraud. But minority groups, including the Texas Association of Hispanic County Judges and County Commissioners, the state's NAACP conference and Texas LULAC, said they believed the restrictions discriminated against black and Hispanic Texans, who were less likely to possess the IDs needed to vote.

The groups sued Texas in federal court, arguing the voter ID law violated the federal Voting Rights Act. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, and ordered the lower court — in this case, the Southern District of Texas in Corpus Christi — to work with Texas to rework the law. 

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