Texas' voter ID case could change how voting works across the country

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Top U.S. Court Won't Block Texas Voter ID Law

Texas is at the center of a blockbuster voting rights case heard by a federal appeals court Tuesday. Whatever ruling a 15-member panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals makes will impact 14 million Lone Star State voters in the upcoming presidential election, the Associated Press reported.

In Texas, conservative leaders have pushed strict voter-ID laws that federal officials found to be discriminatory toward racial minorities in 2014. Observers expect that the case will eventually be appealed up to the Supreme Court, where justices will decide whether Texas and other states with similar proposals are within their right to require forms of ID that black and Democratic voters are less likely to have than white, Republican voters.

The 5th Circuit had agreed to consider a lower court's injunction against the law in March. A federal judge in Texas ruled the law was unconstitutional in 2014, comparing it to a poll tax that historic civil rights-era legislation outlaws.

Texas' Voter ID Case Could Change How Voting Works Across the Country
Source: Eric Gay/AP

Here are a few reasons why Texas' voting rights case deserves your attention:

Studies show that enough Americans lack government-issued photo IDs to swing statewide and national elections.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, 21 million Americans lacked a government-issued photo ID in 2006, even though they were eligible and registered to vote. More than 600,000 voters in Texas lacked a government ID.

RELATED: Texas voting rights, Voter ID Law

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Texas' voter ID case could change how voting works across the country
FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2014 file photo, an election official checks a voter's photo identification at an early voting polling site in Austin, Texas. As voters take to polls on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, they'll encounter a set of rules about their registration, the need to show a photo ID and casting a provisional ballot if they encounter a problem that have changed substantially in some states in the past two years - and, in some cases, remain subject to court fights over their constitutionality. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2013 file photo, a sign in a window tells of photo ID requirements for voting at a polling location in Richardson, Texas. Overshadowed in a big election year for Texas is a big trial coming over how ballots are now cast: under a tough new voter ID law. A trial begins Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, in Corpus Christi over one of the most stringent voter ID measures in the nation. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos will decide whether the Texas law is a legal safeguard or a discriminatory mandate that suppresses minority turnout. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 photo, a voter shows his photo identification to an election official at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas. In elections that begin next week, voters in 10 states will be required to present photo identification before casting ballots _ the first major test of voter ID laws after years of legal challenges arguing that the measures are designed to suppress voting. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 photo, "I Voted Early" stickers are seen at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas. In elections that begin next week, voters in 10 states will be required to present photo identification before casting ballots _ the first major test of voter ID laws after years of legal challenges arguing that the measures are designed to suppress voting. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 photo, an election official checks waits for voters at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas. In elections that begin next week, voters in 10 states will be required to present photo identification before casting ballots _ the first major test of voter ID laws after years of legal challenges arguing that the measures are designed to suppress voting. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 photo, a voter casts his ballot at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas. In elections that begin next week, voters in 10 states will be required to present photo identification before casting ballots _ the first major test of voter ID laws after years of legal challenges arguing that the measures are designed to suppress voting. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 photo, pedestrians pass voting signs near an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas. In elections that begin next week, voters in 10 states will be required to present photo identification before casting ballots _ the first major test of voter ID laws after years of legal challenges arguing that the measures are designed to suppress voting. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 photo, an election official checks a voter's photo identification at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas. In elections that begin next week, voters in 10 states will be required to present photo identification before casting ballots _ the first major test of voter ID laws after years of legal challenges arguing that the measures are designed to suppress voting. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
FILE - In this July 29, 2005, file photo, former House Speaker Jim Wright of Texas stands next to the Texas pillar while touring the World War II Memorial in Washington. Wright was initially denied a certificate to vote in Texas because he didn’t have proper documentation under Texas’ Voter ID law, which will be enforced for the first time during Tuesday’s election. (AP Photo/Yuri Gripas, File)
Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, speaks during a news conference Monday, March 9, 2009, in Austin, Texas. A partisan clash is due in the Texas Senate Tuesday, when lawmakers take up a bill designed to tighten voter ID requirements. The bill would require Texans to prove their eligibility before voting. Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso is on the left. Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas is on the right. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
Ruben Vazquez, 77, from Marion, Texas, attends a news conference outside the Capitol Monday, April 23, 2007, in Austin, Texas. He joined in support of speakers who oppose a proposed bill that would require all voters to show a photo identification before voting. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, foreground, speaks during a news conference outside the Capitol Monday, April 23, 2007, in Austin, Texas. He joined other speakers to oppose a proposed bill that would require all voters to show a photo identification before voting. In the background at left is Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, and Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
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Proponents of ballot box access laws have cited the need to protect against voter fraud, but national voting rights advocates have said the laws are a solution in search of a problem. Conservatives typically fall back on a claim that deceased people are mysteriously casting ballots, although that claim is often found to be exaggerated. For example, in 2006, a pair of Georgia researchers examined approximately 2.1 million ballots cast in a statewide election and found "no evidence that election fraud was committed under the auspices of deceased registrants."

Texas' Voter ID Case Could Change How Voting Works Across the Country
Source: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Texas law recognizes gun licenses as proof of identity for the purposes of voting, but not student IDs.

Texas' halted voter ID law would require residents to show one of seven forms of approved identification — which includes military IDs and concealed carry handgun licenses, according to the AP.

The state's law is among the strictest in the nation because it does not recognize university IDs given to college students. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has estimated that college enrollment climbed from 1.44 million students in 2014 to 1.47 million in 2015.

Texas' Voter ID Case Could Change How Voting Works Across the Country
Source: Kris Connor/Getty Images

The surge in voter-ID laws began after the election of the first black president and threatens to upend decades of voting rights gains.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 banned states from passing laws that imposed cumbersome and discriminatory barriers to voting on black and other minority voters. The law required states with a history of racial disenfranchisement to seek federal preclearance before instituting any changes to voting rules and redistricting plans.

Nearly 50 years later, a crop of restrictive voting laws has crept up in Republican-led legislatures across the country. The Obama administration responded by taking legal actions against states that adopted so-called voter-ID laws, including in Texas, where it successfully blocked a strict photo-ID law.

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that the federal preclearance of voting law changes was no longer needed in a nation that had presumably progressed on racial relations. That's when states such as Missouri, Kansas, Georgia and Ohio began adopting sweeping changes to voting laws, including voter ID and reducing the number of early voting days.

If Texas' law is allowed to move forward, it could again embolden states to seek new changes that disenfranchise voters, advocates have said.

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