CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday began reviewing tough new Texas voter ID rules challenged by the Obama administration in a trial that could threaten the polarizing law, although a decision isn't expected before the November election.
Minority rights groups, voters and Democratic lawmakers are among a coalition of plaintiffs suing Texas, and they say their experts have estimated 787,000 registered voters lacking one of seven acceptable forms of ID to cast a ballot under the law. They say blacks and Hispanics make up a disproportionate slice of those voters.
Texas is the first test by the Justice Department to wring protections from a weaker Voting Rights Act after the U.S. Supreme Court last year gutted the heart of the landmark 1965 civil rights law.
In two Texas elections since that ruling, voters have been required to show an approved ID. Lawyers for Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the favorite to become governor in January, told a judge that both took place without glitches or disenfranchising voters.
"This requirement is one that Americans comply with every day to engage in mundane activities like cashing a check, opening a bank account or boarding a plane," said Reed Clay, a special assistant under Abbott.
The trial in front of U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi is expected to last two weeks, but a ruling isn't expected until after Election Day. That means roughly 13.6 million registered voters in Texas would still need to produce a photo ID this fall.
Conservative states have rushed to pass voter ID restrictions in recent years, and similar lawsuits are ongoing in Wisconsin and North Carolina. Measures in Georgia and Indiana have survived challenges.
But the office of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says the Texas law stands out as especially stringent and racially motivated.
Unlike other states with voter ID restrictions, Texas doesn't recognize university IDs from college students at polling places, but does accept concealed handgun licenses as proof of identity. Free voting IDs are available from the state, but opponents say getting those cards still put underlying financial costs on voters, such as paying for birth certificate copies and travel.
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