On Thursday the DOJ announced it would ask a court in Texas to get permission from the DOJ to move forward with its new Voter ID laws. The move is predicated on the untouched Section III of the Voter Rights Act known as a “bail-in.” If a court rules that Texas’s Voter ID law violates the Constitution then Texas would have to work with the DOJ until the Justice Department determines there are no more Constitutional violations. As expected, GOP Texas Governor Rick Perry called the move outrageous and portrayed confidence the court would rule on the side of Texas. Even if it does not the ruling is expected to be appealed by the state and could make it the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of appeals or the Supreme Court.
But beyond the particulars of the case one has to wonder why the DOJ has singled out Texas to sue? Since Section IV of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional in June a number of states have implemented new Voter ID laws in and outside the South. In the South, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi have or are soon to implement Voter ID laws. Outside the South in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Voter ID laws are pending dependent on court rulings. However, none of these states have been singled out by the DOJ.
Texas and the Obama administration have a history dating back to early in the President’s term. In 2010 when forest fires were raging throughout the state, Texas requested help from the Administration. They did not receive it. In 2011 when Texas was set to pass its Voter ID law the DOJ sued under Section IV of the VRA and halted its enactment. The DOJ also tried to stall Texas’s new congressional redistricting map. Most recently, when Texas requested more help from FEMA after the fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West was rejected.
While some of this evidence may seem anecdotal, before 2012 there was a craven political calculation to make Texas look bad. Governor Rick Perry was seen as being a strong contender to the President. Turning the state and by extension the Governor into a racist hotbed could have soured voters to Perry. Today, the political calculus is different but the ends the same. The President is deeply unpopular with whites across the country and needs minorities and single women to turn out for his party in 2014. Thus, alleging voter discrimination in the South is a way to test whether his coalition will come out when he is not personally on the ballot.
Consider that in 2008 Republicans won 57% of the white vote (at the Presidential level). In 2012 the GOP won anywhere from 62%-64% of the white vote. In 2012 the GOP share of the white vote dropped down but still reached a historical high of 59%. Contrast the GOP performance among minorities, particularly Hispanics (38%) with their performance among Hispanics in 2012 (27%). The numbers say it all. In a midterm, if the 2012 results among minorities can be replicated, especially if they compose 28% (2012) of the electorate as oppose to 23% (2010) could spell success or at least survival for many in danger Congressional and Senate Democrats.
But Texas is also on the Democratic hit list for another reason; political demographics. By all rights Texas should be a blue state. Whites barely make up 50% of the population and Hispanics, Asians and blacks are rising as a percentage of the population. But while the GOP struggles with all three of the groups nationally, in Texas they seem to have found a rapport with Hispanics and Asians. In 2010 Perry won 38% of the Hispanic vote and among Asians down-ballot candidates report doing extremely well in suburban enclaves. Considering virtually every other state has seen its emerging non-white voting base turn heavily blue this makes Texas an outlier.
Thus Texas should be targeted. Democrats plan to invest over $20 million by 2016 in an organization called “Turn Texas Blue” to make it a battleground state by 2016. But to do this Democrats need every minority voter they can get. After being solidly Democratic up to 1994 the white vote in the state has turned and consistently stayed heavily Republican. In 1994 George Bush won over 60% of the white. In 2010 Perry won 70% of it. In 1998, George Bush won 49% of the Hispanic vote, a high-water mark the GOP has never been able to reach. But increasing margins among white voters have made it irrelevant.
The state has 38 electoral votes to add into any Presidential calculation. Ginning up resentment among the minority populations of the state could make them come out, register, and pull the lever Democratic. But whether they will be liberals or more business-friendly moderates such as the Castro brothers remains to be seen.
Lastly, and this is getting on treacherous grounds, Texas has always seemed to symbolize to the administration the arrogance of white power. It has become clear to the author after viewing the Obama administration that they really do not like white voters. Their policies, their language and their actions all reflect this. In turn non-college and even college educated whites have fled the President. In a way, going after Texas’s Voter ID law is a way to put whites in their place. A better example of this would be the Zimmerman trial but I leave that alone for now.
The DOJ’s attempt to stick it to Texas might work or it might not. Whites fed up with the President could turn out in mass in 2014 and hand Democrats heavy losses. But in 2016 perhaps the Obama strategy will pay off. Either way, the political calculus is simple. Pick on Texas and perhaps other southern states to show minorities we care about your rights and white Republicans do not. Yes, it is that simple!