By Maya Rhodan
October 14, 2014

Texas’s controversial voter identification law is back in play for the upcoming midterm elections, after an appeals court ruled Tuesday to let it stand.

The strict photo identification law requires voters to present one of 7 specific forms of ID at the polling place. Student IDs are not included among the acceptable forms of identification. Critics of the law say it risks disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of registered voters, many of whom are people of color.

But the Fifth Circuit Court found that the risk of confusion at the polls is too great to change voting procedures with less than a week to go before early voting begins on Oct. 20. Though the state filed a motion of appeal, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday to stay a district court ruling that blocked the law, pending appeal.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, a 2011 Obama appointee, determined last week that Texas’s 2011 voter ID law is unconstitutional, violates the Voting Rights Act, and “constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax,” a powerful statement running in contrast to the state’s argument that the sole purpose of the law was to prevent in-person voter fraud.

“This is not a run-of-the-mill case; instead, it is a voting case decided on the eve of the election,” the ruling reads. The appellant court found that though “individual voter plaintiffs may be harmed by the issuance of this stay,” that harm does not outweigh the damage a change this close to the election could have on the process.

Texas’s law is one of several that have been tied up in the courts as the election draws nearer. The same day the district court ruled to block Texas’s law, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to block a voter ID law in Wisconsin that advocates said could have disenfranchised over 300,000 residents.

Days earlier, the Supreme Court ruled to allow a sweeping voting law to stand in North Carolina, though voting rights advocates argued it disenfranchised minority voters and an appeals court moved to block some parts of the law in late September.

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