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Lost Votes in Texas: Photo ID Back in Court Next Week

“It shouldn’t be whether you have an ID, it should be whether you’re a citizen.” Read the final part of our series talking to voters who struggled with Texas’s new photo ID requirement.

  • Jonathan Brater
April 23, 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 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.