Voting is a fundamental right of citizens in the United States, and Texas is no exception. In Taylor, Texas, the state requires all voters to present one of six forms of photo identification in order to cast their ballot. This requirement is set forth in Texas Senate Bill 14 (“SB 14”), which has been challenged in the U. S.
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals as an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard four separate lawsuits challenging SB 14 as a violation of the Voting Rights Act's prohibition of enacting laws with discriminatory purposes or effects, and an unconstitutional electoral tax. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in all four lawsuits, and Texas appealed. After an en banc hearing, the Fifth Circuit panel overturned and remitted the lower court's conclusion that the Texas Legislature enacted SB 14 for discriminatory purposes, confirmed the lower court's assertion that SB 14 has a discriminatory effect, overturned the lower court's conclusion that SB 14 constituted an electoral tax and issued a ruling in favor of Texas, and dismissed the plaintiff's claims about the unconstitutional burden of constitutional evasion. Before SB 14, Texas voters could vote “in person” by presenting a registration certificate or signing an affidavit and presenting one of multiple forms of identification such as a driver's license, photo identification (including employee or student IDs), a utility bill, a bank statement, a paycheck, a government document showing the voter's name and address, or an email addressed to the voter by a government agency.
The current application for an acceptable form of voter identification does not require disclosure of a full or even partial social security number. The court found that SB 14 imposes an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. A person's right to vote is implicit in the First Amendment and is protected as a fundamental right by the due process and equal protection provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment. The unconstitutionality of SB 14 lies not only in the fees that the State charges for birth certificates, but also in having people make additional trips to county and state offices to get their photo IDs, having people determine requirements for themselves and choose whether to go to work or get a photo ID, creating a second class of voters who can only vote by mail, and putting the administration of voting rights in the hands of a law enforcement agency. The Fifth Circuit also overturned the district court's conclusion that SB 14 was an unconstitutional electoral tax and ruled in favor of Texas. The appellate court determined that SB 14 did not impose an electoral tax before SB 983 eliminated the fee for obtaining a birth certificate, and that SB 983 nonetheless eliminated any direct fee for any documentation required to obtain a qualified voter ID. SB 14 also violates Texans' right to information privacy by requiring them to disclose personal information to obtain photo identification that qualifies for SB 14 and to vote.
EPIC has previously articulated and defended this right to information privacy in written amicus briefs to the U. Third Circuit Court of Appeals and U. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. In Luzerne County v.
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (predecessor of EPIC) submitted an amicus brief arguing that Virginia's voting plan “is an unnecessary and unconstitutional impediment to the right to vote” due to its requirement for disclosure of Social Security Numbers (SSN). The brief argued that this unnecessary disclosure posed substantial personal privacy problems. In summary, it is essential for citizens in Taylor, Texas to be aware that they must present one of six forms of photo identification when they go out to vote. This requirement is set forth in Texas Senate Bill 14 (“SB 14”), which has been challenged as an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote due to its potential discriminatory effects on certain subgroups who may not have access to qualifying forms of identification. It is also important for citizens to be aware that they may be required to disclose personal information such as their Social Security Number when obtaining voter identification.