Texas Photo ID Trial Update: Day Two Afternoon Session

Testimony from a former Texas Director of Elections, the Director of plaintiff Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund, the Executive Director of Christian Assistance Ministry, and two individuals who face burdens under SB 14.

September 4, 2014

After nearly a year of litigation, the Texas photo ID trial started Tuesday, September 2. Visit our trial page for updates from the expected two-week trial as it proceeds.

The afternoon of the second day of trial saw testimony from, among others, a former Texas Director of Elections, the Director of plaintiff Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund, the Executive Director of Christian Assistance Ministry in San Antonio, a crisis management program, and two individuals who face burdens under SB 14.

The afternoon session began with the state’s cross examination of Kristina Mora, an employee who works with at-risk individuals in Dallas, who testified in the morning session about the difficulties her clients had obtaining ID. The state asked whether the people Mora works with had bigger concerns than voting.  Mora testified that there were indeed a wide variety of reasons for which people used their services, and noted that when their clientele were asked over a loudspeaker whether they specifically had difficulties voting, only a handful responded.

Plaintiffs later called Randall Buck Wood, former director of the Elections Division of the Texas Office of the Secretary of State from 1969 to 1972. Wood has since been in private practice and worked extensively in election law. Chad Dunn led Wood’s questioning.

  • Wood testified that for a huge percentage of election cases, the disputed election was won by a very small margin.  Because of this, whether votes cast in the election were legitimate votes is highly important. He stated that while he has been involved in cases where election officials themselves have committed fraud, the issue of impersonation voter fraud—or going to the polls and pretending to be someone else—has never been raised.
  • Wood stated that this type of voter fraud is “almost impossible to do” because the likelihood of being caught is so great. In order to commit this fraud, one would have to identify someone to impersonate, hope that they hadn’t already voted, and also hope that they don’t return to vote later. Even before SB 14 was implemented, impersonating someone would have required some identifying documents. And if caught, “these are all felonies, and they’re multiple felonies.”

The court heard next from Blake Green, the Deputy State Director for the Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund. Natasha Kargaonkar from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund led his questioning.  Green testified that SB 14 has been a drain on the league’s resources, which normally go to student outreach and voter registration. Green said he has never heard of a case where a student has used a student ID to fraudulently vote. He stated, “I do this work because . . . if you want to make change in the community, it starts at the ballot box.” 

Following Blake Green was Dawn White, the executive director of the Christian Assistance Ministry in San Antonio.  Amy Rudd from Dechert LLP led her questioning.

  • White testified that her ministry was a crisis management program for social services, where people can receive help with food, clothing, financial assistance, and ID recovery. The ministry receives no financial support from the government, and has 10 employees and over 200 volunteers. Everyone who uses the ministries’ services is impoverished, and White estimated that about 80 percent are Hispanic or African American.
  • She testified that her ministry helps people get photo IDs as well as the underlying documents needed to obtain an ID, such as a birth certificate. Because ID recovery is so difficult, she testified that to ensure their ID recovery services program is successful, they only accept individuals into the program who are referred from another social services agency and need the ID to obtain other services. Birth certificates are the most common need, because many clients were born at home, out of state, or have no easily accessible records. Many of her clients work for other family members, doing construction, or other odd jobs. Some clients had ID at one point but they were robbed or faced some other emergency. White stated that many of her clients have lived a long time without any current state issued ID, by using an expired ID or an old photocopy.
  •  White testified that education around obtaining ID is what her ministry focuses on initially because there is a lot of confusion. Her clients don’t know where to go, what forms to fill out, don’t have transportation to get there, and can’t take the days and hours off of work. White’s clients often lack Internet access. She estimated that it would take the average person about two hours by bus to go to the Department of Public Safety for ID purposes.
  • When asked how many clients she has to turn away, Ms. White stated that her ministry sees about 10,000 people per year who they might have the ability to help with ID recovery. Of those, they are able to offer ID-recovery assistance to approximately 5,000 individuals per year. And of those 5,000, only 2,500 actually obtain a form of ID, though not necessarily photo ID. It might only be an underlying document such as a birth certificate, which they would in turn need to use to obtain a photo ID. It takes an average of six weeks to help someone obtain an ID, but for many clients it can actually take three or four months.
  • White testified that the Christian Assistance Ministry spends $50,000 for the ID Recovery Program annually, and this does not include staff time and other organizational resources. She estimated that it would cost her ministry $100 per person to help a client through the whole ID process. This includes items like bus fare. The demand is such that she stated, “we turn [people] away constantly.”  When asked,  White stated she would not use her resources to help people obtain Election Identification Certificates because of the ministry’s limited resources—voting is not part of the ministry’s central mission, which deals with crisis situations.
  • White stated that she believed that the burden of ID recovery fell more heavily on minorities. In the downtown location of the ministry, which is more heavily used by minorities, she estimated that about one-third of the financial component of the office goes to ID recovery. In the Ministry’s other location in a white neighborhood, people rarely need ID Recovery services.

The plaintiffs put on two additional witnesses who face burdens under SB 14, Gordon Benjamin and Phyllis Washington. Gordon Benjamin had difficulty getting a driver’s license because he struggled to obtain a birth certificate. He took public transportation to get to the courtroom. The next witness was Phyllis Washington, an African American from Houston. Her photo ID was stolen in 2012, and because of health problems she did not have time to replace it before the election in 2013. When she went to the polls to vote and did so provisionally, Washington stated that she never was told about a disability exemption. She later made several trips to DPS, which she testified was difficult because of her limited mobility. She now has acceptable ID.