Politics & Government

Texas Rep. Veasey: Let’s act on Voting Rights Act

Fort Worth Democrat Rep. Marc Veasey is starting the Voting Rights Caucus to urge a congressional update of the Voting Rights Act three years after the Supreme Court struck down provisions of the law.
Fort Worth Democrat Rep. Marc Veasey is starting the Voting Rights Caucus to urge a congressional update of the Voting Rights Act three years after the Supreme Court struck down provisions of the law. AP

To Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, the Voting Rights Act is personal.

A former African-American state lawmaker who was elected to Congress in 2012, Veasey was able to compete in a district newly drawn for minority representation in North Texas.

But since the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Veasey has been concerned about its future. To urge Congress to rewrite and update the law, on Tuesday he’s announcing that he’s creating the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus.

Despite numerous calls to action from House Democrats and even House Republicans who remember the bipartisan spirit of the Voting Rights Act, three years later, Congress has failed to act and update the Voting Rights Act.

Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas

The group is holding a press conference Tuesday to announce its formation. The caucus, which already counts 49 members, includes African-American congresswomen Eddie Bernice Johnson and Sheila Jackson Lee, both Texas Democrats, as well as Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., who is Hispanic, and Washington congressman Rick Larsen, who is white.

“The Supreme Court 2013 ruling that gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act set in motion what many feared: the subjection of minorities, seniors, and low-income Americans to unfair, punitive barriers preventing them from exercising their most basic right as American citizens,” Veasey said by email.

In June, caucus members plan to introduce a bill, the Poll Tax Prohibition Act, which would block identification requirements that result in voters bearing an “associated cost,” such as acquiring a birth certificate or incurring travel costs.

Veasey is also on the front lines of a voting rights case that bears his name, Veasey v. Abbott, which challenges Texas’ voter ID law and is being argued Tuesday at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Greg Abbott is now the state’s governor but was previously Texas attorney general. Texas made the law effective immediately after the Supreme Court ruled.

“During my time in the Texas State Legislature,” Veasey said by email, “I witnessed firsthand the lack of evidence behind the rampant claims of voter fraud and the obstacles voters would face if the 2011 photo Voter ID were put in place. Now as the lead plaintiff in Veasey v. Abbott, I’m fighting Texas’ restrictive photo Voter ID law to ensure that Texans have unfettered access to the ballot box.”

Texas requires voters to produce one of seven photo identifications, such as a driver’s license or a personal identification card issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Critics say the rule makes voting onerous for the poor and elderly and for immigrants.

But Marc Rylander, spokesman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, said: “Government entities require photo ID at public libraries, to receive a passport, to board a plane, just to name a few examples. Requiring a photo ID to vote is a reasonable and effective way of protecting our elections against voter fraud.”

Abbott also strongly defends the Texas law. "The fact is voter fraud is rampant – and in Texas, unlike some other states and unlike some other leaders – we are committed to cracking down on voter fraud," Abbott said in March, responding to criticism from President Obama, who had traveled to Texas for the SXSW festival.

Texas has lost three rounds on the matter so far, but asked the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the case with all 15 judges after losing with the three-judge panel. That gets under way Tuesday.

Veasey and opponents of the ID law asked the Supreme Court to intervene before the November elections. The court said that if the 5th Circuit did not rule by July 20, the plaintiffs could appeal to the Supreme Court.