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 the third and final part in that series. (See parts one and two.) Initials are used for voters who wish to remain anonymous.
“They would not even talk to me.”
Jesse Farley is 76 and lives in Pearland. He has an expired driver’s license because he no longer drives on account of health issues. When he showed up to vote in 2014 with his expired license, he said he was given the cold shoulder by poll workers. “They would not even talk to me,” he said. Mr. Farley had to be extremely persistent with the poll worker just to be allowed to vote a provisional ballot, and he thinks he was only allowed to do that because they wanted to get him out of there.
Mr. Farley found the whole experience ridiculous because he had a picture ID — it was just expired. They could look at it and tell it was him. To not be able to vote, even with that documentation, was “very frustrating” and he was very unhappy about it. He is a regular voter. He votes in primaries and in general elections, and this is the first time this has ever happened to him. He has been in the Houston area since 1975.
Mr. Farley is in the process of getting a state-issued picture ID. Before his experience on Election Day, he did not want to renew his driver’s license because he knew he would not be driving. He had heard he would need a picture ID to vote, but he was not worried because he had his old driver’s license. “I had a picture ID, I had my social security card, I had everything I should have needed to vote, but then I did not get to vote.” Only when he showed up at the polls did he learn that this identification was not good enough for his ballot to count.
Mr. Farley thinks the law is politically motivated. The way the law is written, he said, “changed the rule so that you are counted as nobody” if you do not have the documents they need. He thinks that “everybody they can keep from voting, they will keep from voting.” He worries the law is discriminatory as well. “I frown on those things because if somebody is in our country legally and is eligible, they should be able to vote — you should not need a driver’s license.” He does not know what needs to be done to correct the law, but “it needs to be corrected… Voting is one of the rights we have as citizens — or we used to have it anyway; now they are throwing all these obstacles in the way.” He said, instead, that “elections should be dictated by if people want to vote for you, and who is the best qualified, not if you can face the obstacles they want you to face to vote.”
“How many more people did they do this to?”
Felicia Davis, 47, lives in Houston. She has voted regularly without incident since she turned 18, until the last election.
Ms. Davis moved to Texas from Georgia six years ago. She has a Georgia driver’s license, which she has used to buy a home, register vehicles, open a bank account, and do everything else she has needed an ID for in Texas. But when she went to the polling place during early voting with her Georgia driver’s license and her voter registration card, she was not allowed to vote a regular ballot.
She was instead given a provisional ballot — but the poll workers did not explain that she would have to take additional steps to get that ballot counted. She thought that when she filled it out, it would count. She said she did not know that her vote was thrown out until she got a letter in the mail “a couple months later” — much too late for her to do anything about it.
Even if she had known in advance, it would have been hard for to find a convenient time to get her ballot counted in the window available, because she works as a paralegal and is paid hourly. The Department of Public Safety (DPS) office is closed before she goes to work and when she gets home, the offices near her have no weekend hours, and she cannot afford to take time off during the work week.
Ms. Davis felt silenced by not having her vote counted — and she wonders how many other people will have the same experience. “I felt like my voice was not being heard,” she said. “And then it made me wonder: How many more people did they do this to?” She said she saw other people at the polling place without ID who simply left without voting, and she worries they will not come back again.
Ms. Davis never imagined she would not be able to cast a ballot when she showed up with a valid ID she can use for numerous other legal purposes, just because it was from a different state. “People relocate all the time,” she said. “I was led to believe my vote would count.”
Ms. Davis is not sure how she will vote in future elections, because she still has a Georgia license. She said when she looked into getting a free state ID for voting, she was told she was not allowed to because of her Georgia driver’s license.
“It shouldn’t be whether you have an ID, it should be whether you’re a citizen.”
Mr. H is 65 and lives in Chico. He has lived in Texas since 1958, votes regularly, and has never had a problem before. But in the most recent election, his vote did not count.
He has an expired license since he no longer drives, but when he showed with his expired license — and his voter registration card — the poll workers told him he had to vote provisionally and needed a valid photo ID to get it counted. He was not able to get one, however, and he said he will have the same problem the next time around.
Mr. H said it was “a little bit frustrating” when he found out he could not vote because his driver’s license was expired. There are a lot of people who do not have valid IDs, he said. He does not think it makes sense to make voting contingent on having the kind of identification the state requires. “I’m a U.S. citizen,” he said. “It shouldn’t be whether you have an ID, it should be whether you’re a citizen.”
Even if the state needs to see an ID, he said, the documents he has should be enough. “I have a voter registration card and I gave them my voter registration card, and it should be off that — not whether or not you have a driver’s license, or whether you can run over there to the DPS even if you don’t drive.”
“That’s frightening … that you can go to school with somebody for 12 years, they know who you are and you still can’t vote.”
Mr. D is 69 and lives in Florence. He has voted at his poll site for 48 years, and said everyone knows him there. Since his driver’s license is expired — he cannot drive anymore because of health problems — he did not get to vote a regular ballot.
He voted a provisional ballot instead, but has trouble getting around, so he was not able to follow up and get the documents he needed to get his voted counted. He was unhappy about not being able to vote — and said it made no sense because he obviously was who he said he was. “Everybody in the room, everybody in the damn room knew who I was. I grew up with some of these people and went to school with some of these people. That’s frightening … that you can go to school with somebody for 12 years, they know who you are and you still can’t vote.”
He said he is a regular voter — “I am proud that I put my two cents in whenever I can” and this is the first time he’s had a problem like this. “What bothers me is I’ve lived in the same town in the same house for a long time. I have a college degree, which I got with a good grade point average. I’ve never done anything that would disqualify me from voting — it does get bothersome when you’re denied something that should be so simple.”
“I just assumed they would take my vote.”
Ms. N is 61 and has lived in New Braunfels for 10 years. Before that, she lived in San Antonio, where she was raised. When she went to vote this year, she forgot her driver’s license. So, even though she had her voter registration card, instead of voting a regular ballot she had to vote provisionally.
She could have gotten her driver’s license and gotten the vote counted, but nobody at the polling place told her that her provisional ballot would not count unless she took additional steps. “It was just one man trying to do everything. I just assumed they would take my vote.” Ms. N was surprised when, later on, she then received a letter saying that her vote did not count.
“You can’t gripe if you don’t vote.”
Ms. G is 70 and lives in Huntsville. In 2014, she lost her wallet, which contained her driver’s license. For that reason, she was not permitted to vote a regular ballot, even though she had two years of prior voter registration cards, a Sam’s club card with her picture on it, and an expired driver’s license.
She voted a provisional ballot, but she was not able to get it counted because of health problems — she was undergoing surgical procedures, and needed help from others to get around. She could not get assistance in time to get her ballot counted.
Voting is very important to Ms. G, which made not getting to vote this year troublesome. “Our elections are very important. You can’t gripe if you don’t vote.” She said that she is a regular voter, and this is the first time she’s had a problem like this.
“They didn’t explain to me nothing.”
Mr. H is 83 and lives in Livingston. He has a driver’s license, but when he went to vote with his wife, he left his wallet at home and did not bring his driver’s license because his he and wife thought the documentation he had with him was enough.
He was given a provisional ballot, but poll workers did not adequately explain that the ballot would not vote if he did not do more — he thought signing the provisional affidavit “was all there was to it.” Later on, he got a letter from the county saying his vote did not count. Even though his vote would not have made a difference in the outcome of the election, he was disappointed when he got a letter saying his ballot was not counted.
Mr. H said he has been voting all his life — “since I was qualified,” he said — and had been voting continuously in Texas since he returned from the Air Force in 1954. This was the first time his vote was not counted. He is not predisposed to complain about his vote getting thrown out — “rules is rules,” he said. Even so, he wishes the poll workers had told him the provisional ballot would not count. “They didn’t explain to me nothing,” he said.