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No ID, No Vote: What’s Happening in Texas

From young voters misinformed to elderly voters at risk, Texans share the hurdles and hoops they have to go through to try to vote this election.

  • Brennan Center for Justice
October 30, 2014

Voting is now under­way in Texas, a state with one of the strict­est voter ID laws in the nation. This is the first federal elec­tion since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a key provi­sion of the Voting Rights Act, which would have required Texas to get govern­ment approval for these changes. Below are stor­ies from actual voters and the diffi­culties they’ve encountered. Initials are used for those voters who wish to remain anonym­ous. In many cases, Texas failed these voters twice first by requir­ing iden­ti­fic­a­tion they did not have, and second by not train­ing elec­tion offi­cials to help them navig­ate the rules.

Read the first set of stor­ies here. Voters in need of assist­ance should call 1–866-OUR-VOTE, where trained volun­teers are stand­ing by to assist voters and answer any ques­tions they may have.

Younger voters misin­formed…

Lee Calvin Molina lives in Mercedes, one of the oldest towns in the Rio Grande Valley. He is a registered voter and has voted in past elec­tions, includ­ing in 2012. Mr. Molina has a Depart­ment of Public Safety (DPS)-issued state iden­ti­fic­a­tion card that expired on Septem­ber 10. When he went to vote, he was told by a poll worker that he was not allowed to vote with his ID even though it expired less than 60 days ago (as the law allows). After the poll worker told him he could not vote with an expired ID, he assumed he could not vote — there was no reason to think elec­tion offi­cials were not telling him the rules correctly.

Mr. Molin­a’s mother is a candid­ate for a posi­tion on the school board. After he left the polls, he happened to talk to a campaign volun­teer. Because of the campaign volun­teer’s exper­i­ence, she told Mr. Molina that he had been given the wrong inform­a­tion and should have been allowed to vote. He called the elec­tion office and they told him that he could in fact vote with that ID. After the call, he went back and cast his ballot.

Mr. Molina said he would not have known that he could vote if he had not run across an exper­i­enced campaign volun­teer who knew the rules. He has voted before, and trus­ted poll work­ers to tell him accur­ate inform­a­tion. He just assumed that they would have the same rules across the state, and it would not depend on what poll worker he spoke with. Mr. Molina is worried about other people who may not get to vote because Texas is not enfor­cing the rules the way they are supposed to.

…Oth­ers give up entirely

Joe Ponce* lives in Edin­burg and has been voting since he was 18 years old. He went to vote early with his son. After they waited in line to vote, his son was not allowed to vote with his Texas driver’s license. Mr. Ponce believes the license expired about 75 days ago, just 15 days away from the 60 day expir­a­tion cutoff. Mr. Ponce’s son was not allowed to vote with his expired license even though he had a Texas ID with his picture on it, his voter regis­tra­tion card, and even his birth certi­fic­ate. Instead, they told him to renew his license. But his son was so frus­trated by the exper­i­ence that he told Mr. Ponce that he was just going to get his license renewed and then not vote — he was embar­rassed and demor­al­ized  by being told he wasn’t allowed to vote in front of several other people.

Mr. Ponce said his son wasn’t the only one who was stopped from voting. An African-Amer­ican man only two spots ahead of them in line was also blocked, possibly because of an expired ID. He was with his family and was clearly upset. And he has heard of many other prob­lems in the Edin­burg area. One woman who works at the polls said the number of prob­lems people were having was “out of control.” Mr. Ponce is also worried about the large senior popu­la­tion in the area.

This is enough for Mr. Ponce to believe the law is caus­ing substan­tial prob­lems. He says that wait­ing in line for a long time to vote, only to be told you cannot vote even if you have a picture ID, is going to discour­age people. He’s worried that younger people might be giving up — he is even worried that his daugh­ter might not vote when she finds out what happened to his son. He does­n’t under­stand the point of receiv­ing a voter regis­tra­tion card if you can’t use that to vote — espe­cially if you also show an expired picture ID.

Elderly voters also at risk

Diana F lives in the Austin area. Her mother is elderly — she will be 95 soon — and she has voted her whole life. Her mother was very upset when she learned about the voter ID law. Her driver’s license had expired because she can no longer drive. She has a hard time getting around, it would have been diffi­cult for her to get to a DPS to obtain an ID, and she does­n’t know where her birth certi­fic­ate is.

Diana F says that when she was trying to help her mother, she did not learn anything about other voting options from the state offi­cials respons­ible for guar­an­tee­ing voter access. Only when she called a non-govern­ment elec­tion hotline did she find out that an absentee ballot might be an option for her mother. With Ms. F’s help, her mother was ulti­mately able to vote by mail, and was very happy to be able to continue her long tradi­tion of parti­cip­a­tion. But Ms. F worries about other elderly voters who may not have family members like her — Ms. F doggedly pursued the issue until she found a way for her mother to vote. She does­n’t under­stand why a voter regis­tra­tion card isn’t enough, or why an expired driver’s license — a govern­ment-issued docu­ment with a picture — isn’t good enough either.  

Many more voters turned away

Campaign volun­teers report seeing many more voters turned away because of the ID require­ment, with no telling whether they will get the assist­ance they need to over­come these hurdles. Dolores Simmons of Harlin­gen, Texas has seen voters unable to vote because they lack the ID they need, and she is concerned that many of them — espe­cially those with limited means — will have a hard time getting to a DPS office and getting an ID. She knows that some have visited DPS offices and not been able to come away with iden­ti­fic­a­tion.

Missy Bazan reports that she has seen numer­ous would-be voters not being able to vote because they lack IDs or their IDs are expired. Most people who don’t get the chance to vote the first time won’t have another chance to cast a vote, or follow up using a provi­sional ballot. Others are worried about going to a DPS office to get an Elec­tion Iden­ti­fic­a­tion Certi­fic­ate, because they are worried about unpaid tick­ets, warrants, or child support.

Voter hotline hear­ing similar stor­ies

Elec­tion Protec­tion, a nonpar­tisan coali­tion formed to ensure that all voters have an equal oppor­tun­ity to parti­cip­ate in the polit­ical process, has also been hear­ing from voters contend­ing with the new voter ID law.

One such story is that of Pamela Briath­waite-Lawson, a long­time voter who has cast her ballot in several Texas elec­tions, includ­ing in 2012. Ms. Briath­waite-Lawson herself had heard conflict­ing reports about whether the voter ID law was in effect, but brought her iden­ti­fic­a­tion, an unex­pired U.S. pass­port, to be on the safe side. The poll work­ers told her that her pass­port was not valid and that in order to vote, she would need to provide a Texas driver’s license, which she does not have. If Ms. Briath­waite-Lawson had not pushed back and insisted they accept her pass­port, she would not have been allowed to vote.

Adding to the confu­sion in Ms. Briath­waite-Lawson’s case was a prob­lem many married women will encounter this elec­tion season: Her iden­ti­fic­a­tion provided her maiden name, and she was registered to vote in her married name. Even more troub­ling, elec­tion offi­cials made an error when she was regis­ter­ing and mistyped her middle initial into the system — so her voter regis­tra­tion record had the wrong initial. These incon­sist­en­cies almost resul­ted in Ms. Briath­waite-Lawson not being allowed to cast her ballot. As an exper­i­enced elec­tion volun­teer, she was able to ensure that her vote coun­ted. But she said there is “a lot of misin­form­a­tion here in Texas,” and that she has person­ally witnessed others who have had to “jump through hoops” to vote.

*Note: This post has been updated to identify Joe P. as Joe Ponce.

(Photo: AP)