AUSTIN — Texas agreed Wednesday to weaken its voter-ID law, which federal courts have said discriminated against minorities and the poor and left more than 600,000 registered voters potentially unable to cast a ballot.
The state worked fast to soften the law before November’s election, moving from requiring voters to show one of seven forms of suitable identification — a list that included concealed handgun permits, but not college IDs — to letting those without such identification sign an affidavit. That will allow them to cast a regular full ballot, and their vote will be counted.
Texas must also spend at least $2.5 million on voter outreach before November, according to the agreement submitted to U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, who must approve the changes.
The changes come as judges across the country are blocking several GOP-controlled states from imposing stricter election rules this November. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump referenced the rulings Tuesday while reiterating his concerns that the election will be “rigged” against him.
North Carolina was found last week to have not only discriminated against minorities but to have also passed tougher election rules with the intent on doing so. A court isn’t done considering whether Texas had the same motives, but for now, the state and U.S. Justice Department agreed on looser voter ID-rules to get through this election year.
The joint proposal was the result of negotiations between Texas, the Justice Department and minority rights groups who sued over the 2011 law, which a federal appeals court said last month violated the federal Voting Rights Act.
“The provisions we’ve agreed to now are critical safeguards for voters,” said Chad Dunn, one of the lead attorneys in the lawsuit against Texas. “It’s a critical leap forward.”
A spokesman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
In 2014, Gonzales Ramos accepted findings from opponents that more than 600,000 Texas voters lacked a suitable form of identification under the law, which is 4.5 percent of all registered voters in the state.
More than 30 states have some form of voter-ID rules. But the Obama administration joined the fight on a new breed of voter-ID laws passed in Republican-controlled statehouses, sending the Justice Department to join lawsuits in Texas and North Carolina.
Other states also have had election rules sidelined for the coming election. In addition to the North Carolina law that required photo identification, federal courts loosened a similar measure in Wisconsin and halted strict citizenship requirements in Kansas.
North Dakota’s voter-identification requirement is on hold after a federal judge sided Monday with a group of Native Americans who said the law unfairly burdens them.
In an interview this week on Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” Trump speculated that people without proper identification “are going to vote 10 times.” Without offering any immediate evidence, he suggested at a rally Monday that he fears the general election “is going to be rigged.”