Earlier today, a three-judge panel in Washington D.C. declared the Texas voter ID law to be unconstitutional, dealing a major defeat to the Texas Attorney General’s office, which had made a strenuous case earlier this summer that the law deserved to be upheld. The state submitted evidence and presented arguments during the week of July 9. At the end of that week, on July 13, I sat down with Attorney General Greg Abbott for a wide-ranging interview for the September issue of Texas Monthly. That interview, “Greg Abbott’s War,” is on newsstands now.
As is usually the case, we ended up with more material than could be published in the magazine. Among the parts of our conversation that were not included was the following exchange about the voter ID bill. The passage has not been edited, but it gives an accurate sense of General Abbott’s view of the case immediately after it had been argued.
I want to ask you a couple questions about voter ID. We’ve been now through a week of these arguments in Washington , we’ve heard the case. Why is a voter ID law necessary?
First, I’ll tell you, I feel better today about the Texas voter ID law than I felt before the trial began, and I felt great about it before the trial began. We have now successfully proven the two important things that needed to be proved in court. One, and that is, the necessity for voter ID laws. We proved that by showing–in addition to the more than fifty prosecutions I’ve been involved in of voter fraud–that in the most recent election in Texas, votes were cast on behalf of more than two hundred people who were corpses. Already dead. Votes had been cast for people who are in this country and stayed illegally. The reality that votes are illegally cast and that ID can be used to prevent those legally cast votes has been established.
As a footnote here, the question arises, how many cases of voter fraud have to be proved in order for this law to be constitutional? And there’s already an answer for that, issued by the United States Supreme Court. And the answer is zero. Because in the Indiana case that the Supreme Court upheld, the court noted that Indiana had shown no instances of voter fraud that could have been prevented by the voter ID law they passed. Nevertheless, the court said that because of the specter of voter fraud, because of concerns about the integrity of the ballot box, Indiana had a right to impose its voter ID law.
But getting back, we proved two things. One was, voter fraud is real, that illegitimate votes are cast, but we also proved that the Texas voter ID law will not disenfranchise voters. Our opponents at trial were unable to produce a single witness to testify that they would be unable to vote because of the Texas Voter ID law. The Department of Justice came out with inflated numbers about the numbers of Texans who would be impacted by the law, that was completely dismantled by our witnesses, who showed that their numbers included more than 50,000 people who were already dead, a couple hundred thousand people who had moved to other states, several hundred thousand people who were 65 years of age or older, and therefore capable of voting by mail and don’t need a photo ID.
People argue that you need an ID to get on an airplane, I needed an ID to get into this building, you need an ID to drive, etc, so why wouldn’t you need one to vote? One rebuttal to that argument is that none of those other things are a constitutional right. Don’t we have an obligation to lower the bar and to make voting as accessible and easy as possible while retaining its legitimacy?
That rebuttal is based upon hypotheticals–“Gosh, if this law is imposed, it’s going to erect a hurdle to people going to vote.” Without any valid information by the people making those allegations, supporting that conclusion, we don’t have to engage in hypotheticals to know what the effect of the law would be, because we have seen the results in states that have imposed voter ID laws. In the states that have imposed voter ID laws, voter participation by minorities have increased, not decreased.
Well then let me ask you about some of those states. Generally speaking, some of those states would have been affected by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which says that states with a history of discrimination must seek preclearance. My question to you is do you think that section 5 of the Voting Rights Act violates state’ s rights? Is it an affront to state’s rights?
The way that the Obama Administration is applying section 5 is different than it has been applied before. And it is clear that the Obama Administration is playing politics with section 5.
How has it changed?
Sure, it is very easy to prove with regard to voter ID. Four years ago, right before the Obama Administration took office, then, the US Department of Justice took the position that the voter ID laws were not only perfectly constitutional, but were necessary in order to prevent voter impersonation. Four years ago–it could have been a bit longer than that-–but under the prior administration, the United States Department of Justice took the position that the state of Georgia’s voter ID law should be precleared under section 5. The Texas law was based on the Indiana law upheld by the Supreme Court, the Indiana law supported by the United States Department of Justice, and the Georgia law supported by the United States Department of Justice. The law hasn’t changed since the United States Department of Justice said voter ID was fine. The only thing that’s changed is the administration in Washington D.C.
I want to ask you about something you wrote regarding section 5 the other day in an editorial for the Austin American-Statesman. You said “given [Lyndon] Johnson’s reliance on voter fraud to propel his political career, there is little doubt that he would oppose this law.” That ‘s pretty rough; I guess you’re not a fan.
Well, there is a reality and an irony. And that is LBJ is given credit for protecting voter rights. And the reality that everyone knows. And that is, had it not been for box thirteen, he wouldn’t have ever been president, because he would never have been senator. LBJ is a product of voter fraud, and to use him as some symbol of protecting voting rights is the ultimate irony.