GALVESTON — Elections in Galveston County could look drastically different in the near future following Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision invalidating key parts of Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Local officials and legal experts said the decision could result in swift changes to local and state voting laws. Until Tuesday, any changes to voting laws in Texas had to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

But in a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court struck down the formula used to determine which states required that extra federal oversight. The formula considered things like low voter turnouts, voter oppression laws and language requirements to decide what places deserved extra scrutiny when changing their voting laws to decent discrimination.

In the majority decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the country was no longer divided along the same lines it was in the 1975, the last time the formula was updated by Congress.

“In 1965, the states could be divided into two groups: those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout, and those without those characteristics,” Roberts wrote. “Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were.”

The court said that the government could still have oversight of challenged voting districts, but would need to determine those districts by creating a new formula with updated data.

By striking down the formula, known as Section 4, the court essentially removed Section 5, the preclearance requirement, as well.

That could open the door for a number of changes in Texas elections.

Just hours after the decision was made, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that the state’s voter ID law would take effect immediately, and that the redistricting maps approved by the Legislature may also take effect without approval for the federal government.

Bill Sargeant, the county’s deputy clerk of elections, said that Abbott’s announcement would mean that the Galveston Independent School District’s special election scheduled for Aug. 27 would be the first in the county to require voters to present IDs at the voting booth.

Sargeant also said the decision he makes about where to put election sites will not have to be cleared by the Department of Justice.

On Tuesday, the Texas Department of Public Safety announced that it would begin processing applications for free voter ID cards.

Under the voting laws passed under 2011’s Senate Bill 14, voters would need to present a viable form of ID — such as a driver’s license, a concealed handgun license, a passport, a military ID or the voter ID card — to be eligible to vote

Sargeant also said that the decision he makes about where to put election sites will not have to be cleared by the department of justice.

The decision could also affect county and local voting districts, including, possibly, the ones used to determine who sits on the Galveston City Council.

In 1998, voters approved a change to the city’s charter, which would have changed the makeup of the council from six district representatives and one at-large mayor, to four district representatives, two at-large members and an at-large mayor. The 6-1 method was imposed after a lawsuit filed by a group of island residents in 1993. The lawsuit argued that the at-large system discriminated against minorities.

The move to a 4-2-1 system was denied by the Justice Department in 1998, and in appeals in 2001 and in 2011.

But it is now unclear whether previous redistricting decisions that had been blocked by the justice department could now take effect.

City attorney Dorothy Palumbo has contacted Bob Heath, the Austin lawyer who had previously argued the 1998 charter provision to the Justice Department, to review the decision. Palumbo will brief the City Council at its July 11 meeting on what steps may be taken to implement the 4-2-1 districts.

Even if the justice department cannot block voting law changes, that does not necessarily mean that there won’t be challenges from other parties, said Charles “Rocky” Rhodes, a professor at South Texas College of Law.

Rhodes said it was likely that any changes to Texas voting laws would still be challenged under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows aggrieved individuals to challenge voting law changes with a lawsuit.

“A political entity or voting subdivision is now able to make changes in voting laws,” Rhodes said. “That doesn’t mean that any change that they make is going to happen. There is no question in my mind that there will be a lawsuit.”

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or john.ferguson@galvnews.com.

(23) comments

Don Ciaccio

Free at last, free at last. Thank God we are free at last to protect our most sacred right- the right to vote.

Miceal O'Laochdha

An army of "advocates" may need to find a new way to make a living...

Dwight Burns

"The Right To Vote" here in America is just that, A Right.
Hundreds of Thousands of people, both black and white, died in the past to insure this Right only to have the Robert's SCOUS stick a dagger into the heart of the "Voting Rights Act". Now the fight begins again.

Gary Miller

What about "un constitutional" is it you don't understand?
VRA was illegal when passed and still is.
It was nothing but a liberal power grab.
The power to control election laws in 15 conservative states.

Gary Miller

Dumb47

What is there about Illegal you don't understand.
SCOTUS ruled VRA was illegal and restored the rights of 15 states.
It was passed by a Liberal congress and signed by a liberal President for the express purpose of suppressing conservative voters.
Liberals don't like conservative voters in 15 states having their voting rights restored.

Dorothy Holt

drumb47...what is it that you don't understand? Is it really that hard to "unnerstand". The vunnables will still be able to vote.

Gary Miller

The Constitution of the United States gives each state total control of state elections.
VRA, passed by a Democrat congress and signed into law by a Democrat President violated the Constitution. It was passed to protect Democrats from Conservative voters.
SCOTUS restored 15 conservative states Constitutional right to write their own election laws.
The population shift from liberal to conservative states will require regular redistricting in these 15 states.
Redistricting of congressional districts could cost Democrats over 45 seats after the next census. Could cost them more than 15 in 2014.
Voter ID laws wil limit the number of non citizens voting in National elections. It will not limit voting by Citizens. Every state requiring Voter ID is offering a cost free citizen ID and a free search of records to identify legitimate voters.
Seven liberal states let non citizens vote. They have that right under the Constitution for state election law.
Congress needs to pass a NATIONAL election ID law. Forcing 7 states to provide seperate ballots for national and state elections for citizens and non citizens.
11 million non citizen ( aka undocumented Democrats ) voted in the 2008 and 2012 elections. Double BHO's winning margine in both elections. Half that 11 million were "green card" residents.

Dwight Burns

IHOG, stop insulting people who know better then the crap you just wrote.

If you think this fight over Voting Rights is over and the SCOUS casted the last stone, then you're grasping for air under water.

Kevin Lang

IHOG, I always thought that no one was able to watch over someone's shoulders when they vote. Apparently, you found a way to be over the shoulders of 11 million voters. Otherwise, you'd have to admit you have no clue as to how they voted. Apparently, you drink the Kool-Aid that all "illegals" vote Democrat, as if there's no such thing as Republican enablement of illegal immigration.

I'm curious as to what the 7 states are that you claim allowed 11 million non-citizens to vote in a federal election, and what is your source for that. Best I can find is that there are jurisdictions where non-citizens are allowed to vote in local elections, but not national.

We already know that Republicans are the wheels that move the economy, so it must be Republicans that are hiring these illegals. Democrats favor unions. Republicans favor union-busting. Illegals are used in labor-busting, because they work cheap. If Democrats had their way, those jobs would be filled with union workers. If Republicans had to pay illegals union wages, that would kill the profit margin in using the cheap illegals, increasing the financial risk of getting caught using undocumented workers. Requiring the use of union labor would cost those illegals their jobs. So, now, why again would these illegals vote for the man that would cost them their jobs?

Also, please demonstrate how their vote gave Obama the presidency when it wasn't the popular vote that got him elected, but the electoral vote. Which states FLIPPED from Red to Blue when the illegal vote was counted?

Gary Miller

kevjlang
Who hires illegals is not the issue. Letting them vote is. They are hired by both liberals and conservitives because liberals make them available by opposing immigration controls. Liberals oppose immigration control because they are sure most of them will vote liberal.

Kevin Lang

What is your source that 11 million non-citizens participated in each of the last 2 Federal Elections? The law says that non-citizens are not allowed to participate in elections for the US House, US Senate, and US President.

Kevin Lang

The thing is that I'm not hearing much about liberals opposing cleaning up the immigration process. I do hear them screaming about some of the proposals of what to with all the "law breakers" that have been breaking the law while our country has been busy not enforcing the law.

It seems to me that liberals AND conservatives have just as many reasons to want to preserve the status quo.

I still don't get the connection that they'll overwhelmingly vote Democratic, unless you believe that not only is the current Republican platform anti-Hispanic, but after immigration reform it will get even more anit-Hispanic.

Kevin Lang

Also, are you intimating that states like Texas will gerrymander the districts so the growing hispanic vote that might trend Democratic will be properly diluted so as to ensure Texas continues to send the "appropriate" number of Republicans to DC?

Gary Miller

Absolutly Kevjlang.

Texas should use gerrimandering as much as liberals have.
Hispanics can always vote if they are citizens registered to vote. There will never be any district in Texas that doesn't accept the votes of any citizen,
Should non citizens be dis enfranchised? Of course.

Gary Miller

Liberals are overjoyed and angry over two SCOTUS rullings this week.
In both cases they found laws, DOMA and VRA, passed by Democrat controled congress and signed into law by Democrat Presidents were illegal.
All citizens should be pleased illegal laws were found constitutionaly illegal. Overturning DOMA changes nothing in the 33 states where VOTERS outlawed same sex marige. The rulling said state courts, not Federal courts, control laws in each state.
Overturning VRA restores the Constitutional right of 15 states to write their own election laws. It changes nothing in the 35 states which have always wrote their own election laws. The only voters disenfranchised were conservative voters in those 15 states. VRA was used to outlaw conservative congressional districts. 15 states can now redraw their state congressional districts to reflect the wishes of their citizens.

Liberals seem to think SCOTUS exists to protect liberals.
The duty of SCOTUS is to protect ALL citizens from illegal laws passed by Congress. It did that this week.

Kevin Lang

Yes, DOMA was passed by Democrats. It was an attempt to throw a bone to the angry religious conservatives. Since it's passing, Republicans have fought not only to keep it, but to strengthen it--some have even expressed a desire to make it a Constitutional Amendment.

I'm sure that Gov. Perry is going to be working really hard on finding out if the State of Texas has to observe the marital status of gays that bring their sinful certificates and disgusting lifestyles into this state.

I see no good reason for the state to disregard the marriage certificates of any other state or nation, as long as the marriage was between consenting adults. Gays are no more disgusting than some married couples. I think that most married people would do well to pay more attention to their own marriages and pay less attention to other people's.

Gary Miller

Correction.

SCOTUS didn't say DOMA was illegal. It said DOMA passed bt congress was illegal but left it open for individual states to pass their own version of DOMA.
It makes no difference to most conservative wheather Queers shack up overnight, permantly or claim (?) they are married. Common law marriges are just as valid. Both are a domestic partnership contract.

Dorothy Holt

Hey, JOHN WAYNE FREGUSON, what does it mean for the state of Texas and the other states that were singled out by the liberal? It means equality. Finally! Get you hands out of our state, Holder, the criminal that you are!

Meg Cagnola

Think of all the places you MUST show a picture ID, to drive a car, board an airplane, take out a loan, open a bank account, write a check, use a credit card, etc. and it is the law in the state of Texas that all persons over the age of 17 carry a picture ID, so why are so many people opposed to having to show their ID before they can vote? You should already have one. I have heard that some people don't have one and they don't have birth certificate in order to get one, well, to those people: Do you know where you born and when? If so, all you have to do is pick up the phone and find out what is needed in order to get a certified copy of it, most of the time you can do it by mail, therefore eliminating the need to get a "ride" to the vital statics department.

Gary Miller

Correction.

All the states that passed Voter ID laws offer free help giting a photo ID.
They will locate your birth certificate for you, search baptisem records or school tanscripts. SS has recorded births and deaths since 1968. One call to SS should be all you need. If you were not born in the US you will not get a voter ID. Claiming you don't have one or can't get one may be proof you shouldn't be voting.

Gary Miller

Upon furthur review.

SCOTUS did not invalidate the VRA. It did invalidate the illegal parts Liberals used to suppress conservative voters in 15 states.
All minorities in all 50 states now have the same voting rights enjoyed in 35 states for the last 50 years.
All states now have the same rights to draw Congressional, state and local voting districts that 35 states have had for 50 years.
The Gerrymandered districts Democrats used to protect liberal candidates in 15 states can now be dismantled. Eliminating up 60 Democrats from the house of Representitives and hundreds of state and local liberals.
The hypocrits whining about the ruling really don't think conservatives should have voting rights equal to liberal voting rights.
Pound sand y'all.

Gary Miller

KEVJLANG.

The numbers of 11 million non citizen voters are what the seven liberal states reported. They braq about how Democratic they are because they let anyone and everyone vote. Citizen or not. Even forighn tourists can vote in California.
How many vote liberal is only as accurate as the state polling data that says 90 + % vote liberal.
3% say they don't know who they voted for. No ballot in their native language so they just pushed the button indicated by the voting officials.

Kevin Lang

For Obama, it's immaterial who is allowed to vote in State Assembly and Senate elections. California is not allowed to let non-citizens vote for President, US Senate, or US House. If you can point me to references that state that they were allowed, I'd appreciate it. In any event, though, if CA let 11 million non citizens vote liberal, the fact of the matter is that the citizen vote is still enough to keep CA a Blue state. So, Obama didn't win because CA let some non-citizens vote for him.

You see to be a staunch proponent of State's rights. Yet, you seem to be opposed to states being able to run their elections as they see fit.

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