Voter ID: Texas Sen. Rodney Ellis testifies supporters knew the law hurts minorities

WASHINGTON — State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, told a federal court this afternoon that the Texas voter ID law would hurt minorities, curbing their vote, and that fellow state senators who supported the law knew it.

“My colleagues knew what they were doing,” Ellis said in testimony on Day 3 of the trial over whether the state can implement the law. “They’re on the wrong side of history.”

Ellis pointed specifically to how the law would disparately impact black and Hispanic voters, like many in his district, who did not have government-issued identification. He said most Texans without government-issued IDs are blacks and Hispanics — an assertion the state and its expert witnesses strongly dispute.

Older blacks, Ellis said, take voting very seriously and prefer to vote in person on Election Day rather than voting by mail, because they remember a time when they were barred from polling places.

“Old habits die hard,” Ellis said. “It’s a rich tradition to go and vote on Election Day.”

Ellis also said that the law would disenfranchise young minority voters. Anyone with a traffic ticket they can’t afford to pay, he said, would be discouraged because they won’t be willing to spend time in state offices with a heavy law enforcement presence. Parking tickets are civil infractions that don’t technically impair a person’s right to vote, unlike a felony, and they shouldn’t be allowed to stand in the way, he asserted.

“Most people in their right mind, if you owed money for a ticket, would not walk past a police officer,” he said, telling the court that for historical reasons, police make some members of the black community nervous.

“This bill has everything to do with race and nothing to do with parties,” Ellis said, adding that it would “disenfranchise the very Hispanics who voted for Governor Bush.”

The lack of government-issued IDs could equate to lower voter turnout, because you’d have to motivate young people, for example, to take the time to go get driver’s licenses, he said.

Ellis said racism is ongoing in Texas, and, though the situation has improved, there is still lots of work to be done. Three of his proposed amendments to the voter ID law during the Senate debate were rejected. One that was widely supported by lawmakers from districts heavily populated by non-whites would have required a report showing a breakdown of the race, ethnicity, age and breakdown of those who don’t have photo ID that would let them vote under the law.

That rejecting, he said, “indicated to me that the state knew it would have [negatively affected minorities] which is why they didn’t want to provide that information,” he said.

At the trial, a Texas state attorney read testimony from the state Senate of a conversation between Ellis and a key supporter of the new law, Sen. Troy Fraser. In it, Ellis agreed that Fraser’s intent in pursuing the law and voting for it was fair.

Ellis deflected the potential damage in court by describing that conversation as “Southern genteel, being polite.”

He said his colleagues were “good people doing a very bad thing.”

Ellis spoke directly following Rev. Peter Johnson, who had expressed similar concerns about persistent racism, and about older minority voters who lack a driver’s license or passport.

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