In Texas, Strict Photo ID Law Hampers Voters

April 20, 2015

In 2011, Texas passed one of the nation’s strictest photo ID laws. After a series of court challenges, a federal judge struck down the measure in October 2014, finding 600,000 registered voters lacked the ID now needed to vote. The requirement, the judge ruled, makes it harder for minorities to vote, was enacted to intentionally discriminate against minorities, and unconstitutionally burdens the right to vote.

The Supreme Court, however, allowed Texas’s photo ID law to remain in place for the November 2014 election — and voters paid the consequences. Unprotected by the courts, the Brennan Center spoke with many Texans who found the photo ID requirement confusing and several who were prevented from voting entirely.

In the lead up to the oral argument in the appeal of the Texas photo ID decision — scheduled for April 28 — the Brennan Center will be releasing a series of stories from actual voters affected by the law in the 2014 general election. This is part two in that series. (Read parts one and three.) Initials are used for voters who wish to remain anonymous.

“If they weren’t going to count my vote, why do they keep sending me a voting card?”

Della Lewis is 89 and lives in Montgomery. She has been voting since she was 30 years old, and has never had any problems — until 2014. “They always sent me my card and I always voted,” she said. But she couldn’t vote last November because she did not have an up-to-date photo ID. She no longer drives, so her driver’s license is expired. Even with her voter registration card, she was not allowed to vote.

She voted a provisional ballot, but she was not able to get it counted. She could not get to a Department of Public Safety (DPS) office with the documentation she needed in time to have her vote counted. She does not have access to a birth certificate, because she was delivered by a midwife, and she was not able to get the other documentation she would have needed to get a new ID in time.

She is still working with an office in Austin to try to get the records she needs to obtain an ID card — and she desperately wants to vote the next time the election comes around. She worries about other voters, particularly elderly voters, who may have expired IDs like her, and who may not have easy access to documentation like birth certificates.

She said she had a very bad feeling about the whole experience. She did not like that they “threw out” her vote — even though she had her voter registration card, was getting election mail from the state, and had an ID card with her picture on it. “They know I’m Della Mae,” she said. “If they weren’t going to count my vote, why do they keep sending me a voting card?”

“We both vote regularly and this is the first time we’ve ever had any trouble before.”

Mr. P is 88 and lives in Pleasanton. Both he and Mrs. P had trouble at the polls last November. “We both vote regularly and this is the first time we’ve ever had any trouble before,” according to Mrs. P.

Mr. P has an expired driver’s license because he does not drive anymore, so poll workers would not accept his identification to vote. Because of Mr. P’s health problems, they were not able to go to a DPS office, get a state photo ID, and go to the election office in time to get the vote counted. 

The process of voting, combined with getting an ID, was too time-consuming for the elderly couple, according to Mrs. P. She said trying to cast a ballot this time around meant going to three different places because of his ID problem, and even then, all he got was a provisional ballot. And at the DPS they “waited and waited and waited in line” during their last visit.

They do plan to vote again in the future, but Mr. P was blocked from voting in 2014, and Mrs. P said it was enough to make them very frustrated. They assumed they would take his driver’s license because it had his picture on it.

“Causing a lot of problems.”

Dorothy Rains-White is 87 and lives in Huntsville. She has lived in Texas all her life. She needs a cane or a walker to get around. When she went to vote with her husband, Willis White, she was unable to cast a regular ballot because they would not accept her expired driver’s license (she no longer drives). 

Getting the provisional ballot counted proved impossible. The last time they tried to get her a driver’s license, according to Mr. White, there was a “big ol’ form” for her to fill out and a whole set of documents required. Mr. White said the DPS did not tell them anything about the possibility of getting a free ID card — and instead said they would have to pay a fee to get a new ID.

Mr. White also observed that trips to the DPS can be difficult. There is no place for older people to sit down while they wait. Mr. White saw a pregnant woman who waited three hours and still was not able to get an ID — she was in tears.

Mr. White thinks Texas’s strict photo ID law is causing a lot of problems. He can understand why protections are needed to make sure only eligible citizens are voting, but the way the law is drawn up is blocking eligible people, like his wife, who has lived in Texas all her life.  

Mrs. Rains-White was upset by the experience. She said “I have been living in the state of Texas all of my life and I felt like I had been cheated out of the privilege of voting.” She said that in her case, being born in 1928, it was unreasonable to have to produce a birth certificate, and proof of paying taxes, and everything else they wanted her to bring to get an ID.

“It will make it so a lot of people don’t even want to go, because they think they can’t pass the bar.”

Walter Johnson is 67 and lives in Lubbock. Born in Texas, he has been a regular voter for many years. In 2014, he showed up to vote with a Texas state identification card, which was not accepted for voting. According to Mr. Johnson, the card was up to date, but the poll worker did not inspect the ID closely enough to confirm it was valid, and he did not get to vote a regular ballot.

Instead, he was given a provisional ballot — but the process of providing the documents needed to get it counted was not adequately explained. Mr. Johnson said that after he cast the provisional ballot, the poll workers “made it sound like everything was copacetic” and the ballot would be valid. Only “a couple weeks after,” when he received a letter in the mail saying his vote did not count, did he realize he had been stopped from voting.

Mr. Johnson said the experience was very frustrating. He said of not voting, “It kind of let me down a little bit, since I went through all that trouble, doing everything right — everything was all legit — and then, because of something they overlooked, on a technicality, they waited until after the fact to tell me I didn’t get to vote.” He thinks the poll worker had “everything right on the table” to show that he was eligible to vote, but did not take the time to check carefully that his ID was valid and he should have been allowed to get his ballot counted.

He also worries about other potential voters being blocked as well, or not even trying to go to the polls: “It will make it so a lot of people don’t even want to go, because they think they can’t pass the bar” needed to vote.

“I know I was born!”

Jeannie Meyer, 69, is originally from California. She moved to Texas in 1990 and has lived in Lakeway since 2003. She is a regular voter and practically never misses an election, but in 2014 her vote did not count because she could not use her picture ID. 

Her driver’s license is expired because she no longer drives. She also has a state identification card, but that is expired as well. She voted a provisional ballot, but she later got a message that her vote did not count.

Even if she could have gotten the documentation needed, Ms. Meyer would have had a very hard time ensuring that her provisional vote counted. Because she does not drive, she would need a ride from her husband to go to the DPS office. Because of his work schedule, however, the only time she could have done that was Saturday morning — so even if she could have found the documents she needed, she would have barely any time to go to the office, get an ID, and then get her provisional ballot counted.

In the future, Ms. Meyer is afraid she simply will not vote because she cannot get an ID. “I actually went down there to try to get another kind of ID because I no longer drive, but they said I needed my birth certificate and marriage license — even though I already have my expired driver’s license and also an expired state ID card.” She said this makes her frustrated “because I have opinions and I must keep them totally to myself. It is especially frustrating because I go way back as a voter.”

Ms. Meyer thinks the state should change the law, because she cannot produce the paperwork state officials are requiring of her in order to cast a ballot that counts. She does not know what else she is expected to prove. “I know that I was born!”

(Photo: Thinkstock)

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