To ID or not to ID — it’s complicated

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The U.S. Supreme Court gave Texas the green light Saturday to enforce its controversial voter ID law two days before the start of early voting.

Without explanation, the justices upheld a federal appeals court ruling Tuesday saying that election procedures shouldn’t be changed so close to the election.

The Obama administration and civil rights groups oppose the voter ID law that requires voters present a photo ID at the polls.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, quickly responded to the ruling, calling it “an affront to our democracy.”

“Today’s decision means hundreds of thousands of eligible voters in Texas will be unable to participate in November’s election because Texas has erected an obstacle course designed to discourage voting,” Ifill said in a statement.

The fight over voter identification laws has turned into a legal free-for-all in the run-up to Nov. 4.

The court’s ruling is the opposite of a decision last week when it blocked Wisconsin’s voter ID law after a coalition of private groups asked the court to intervene, saying the new procedures could cause confusion at the polls.

The rulings are seen as short-term fixes until after the election.

Currently 34 states require voters to produce some form of identification when voting in person. States argue the laws reduce voter fraud; civil rights groups say they disenfranchise minorities.

Florida requires voters present a photo ID with a signature. Voters without an ID can cast a provisional ballot that only will be counted if they can later produce a valid ID.

A new study by the Government Accountability Office has found that voter ID laws, which are popular in Republican states, helped contribute to lower voter turnout — between 2 and 3 percentage points — in Kansas and Tennessee in the 2012 election, affecting primarily younger and African-American voters.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson was one of five senators who requested the study after the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act last year. The court lifted a requirement that some states clear any changes to voting laws with the Department of Justice.

Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., are sponsoring a bill that would reinstate and update the pre-clearance provision.

“This new analysis from GAO reaffirms what many in Congress already know: Threats to the right to vote still exist,” Leahy said in a statement. “That is why Congress must act to restore the fundamental protections of the Voting Rights Act that have been gutted by the Supreme Court.”

Another study by Justin Levitt, a professor at the Loyola University Law School, found 31 instances of voter fraud in federal, state and municipal elections occurring between 2000 and 2014. These involved some sort of misidentification at the polls. The numbers were so small as to not affect the outcome of any election.

Voter ID laws do not address other forms of voter fraud, which Levitt said are far more likely to occur such as vote buying, coercion and stuffing ballot boxes.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.