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.
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.