Meet the man at the center of the battle over the Texas voter ID law

Meet the man at the center of the battle over the Texas voter ID law

Jonathan Tilove, Associated Press

Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos entered the Karnes County Courthouse one morning last week with the usual spring in his step to tell an attentive audience of about 30 local officials and interested parties about the state’s voter ID law, struck down by a federal judge as unduly restrictive and discriminatory.

Any of seven photo IDs will work, he begins, reiterating the parameters of the original law, by way of introducing court-ordered changes.

“Where the change is now is that if someone is unable to obtain one of those seven IDs, that’s OK — they can come in and they need to file a declaration saying that they’ve been impeded or there’s a reasonable impediment as to why they’ve been unable to obtain one of the seven approved IDs,” he says.

Only then should poll workers accept other forms of identification to vote, such as a birth certificate, voter registration card, pay check, utility bill, bank statement or government document, he explains.

“It’s really not that complex,” Cascos says, in a presentation he gives several times a week.

Civil rights lawyers, U.S. Justice Department officials and Texas Democrats, however, say that, instead of making clear how easy it is to vote, Cascos further muddies the waters to discourage turnout, especially among Hispanic voters who are more likely to vote Democratic.

The state’s top election official, Cascos is a Democrat-turned-Republican, but this job demands nonpartisanship, an even-handedness complemented by the kindly countenance he carries with him.

But all that is being put to the test as Cascos finds himself in the thick of one of the most contentious issues in Texas politics, presiding over his office’s campaign to educate Texans between now and Election Day, Nov. 8, about court-ordered changes in the state’s voter ID law.

For both the state’s Republican leadership and the GOP base, that law is viewed as an indispensable and common-sense bulwark against voter fraud, and lawyers from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office will be back in U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos’ courtroom in Corpus Christi on Monday resisting efforts by the Justice Department to force further changes in Cascos’ voter ID education campaign.

After the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July that the Texas voter ID law, enacted in 2011, discriminated against minority voters, Ramos was given the task of establishing acceptable voter ID rules for this November, and to determine whether the Texas law was intentionally discriminatory.

Monday’s hearing comes at the request of the Justice Department, which filed a complaint that Texas officials, notably Cascos and the secretary of state’s VoteTexas.gov website, were continuing to miseducate and confuse Texans about their eligibility to vote.

A plum job

Secretary of state is a plum job, named by the governor, confirmed by the Senate, and then serving at the pleasure of the governor for as long as the officeholder likes.

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