WASHINGTON — Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, testified before a three-judge federal panel against Texas' voter ID law Thursday as her Republican challenger criticized her from Fort Worth.
The fight over the law was heightened this week with Attorney General Eric Holder saying state laws that require a photo ID suppress minority turnout and are like "poll taxes."
At issue in court in Washington is the Obama administration's refusal to pre-clear the law under the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voting in Southern states and other regions with a history of discrimination.
The comparison to poll taxes - fees charged to Southern voters to suppress the black vote until they were struck down - is at the core of the federal government's case against Texas.
The Justice Department argues that requiring certain identification to vote entails a cost, such as having to secure a birth certificate, that disproportionately affects African-Americans and Hispanics, including as many as 1.5 million voters in Texas. The state counters that a photo ID, especially a driver's license, is easily obtainable and that showing one is standard procedure for everyday activities.
"My primary purpose in testifying was to explain how the state, in passing this law with a $27 billion budget shortfall, is creating another unfunded mandate" for localities, Davis told the Star-Telegram. "It's another unfunded mandate that makes a dramatic change to the election law with no funding set aside."
Davis, who testified this year against the state's redistricting map - and ultimately settled with Texas to keep her Senate District 10 boundaries in place - said she is pleased with the way the judges have approached the case.
"I'm confident in this court," she said.
In Fort Worth, the campaign of state Rep. Mark Shelton, her GOP opponent in the fall election, issued a poll in April that showed strong support for the voter ID law. It asked one question: "Do you favor or oppose requiring voters to provide a valid photo ID to vote?"
Among the 400 District 10 voters surveyed, a majority of all groups - Republicans, Democrats, independents and minorities - favored the law.
Shelton campaign manager Clayton Stewart said the big issue is: "Is she testifying against Texas Voter ID while her constituents support it?"
Davis countered, "I believe that voters in District 10 share my view that everyone who is legally eligible and registered to vote should have the opportunity to do so. It is clear my opponent does not share this view. Mark Shelton is defending an irresponsible unfunded mandate that will ultimately cost Texas taxpayers millions of dollars to implement."