This November, for the first time in three years, the estimated 600,000 registered Texas voters who do not have an ID accepted under the state’s strictest-in-the-nation photo ID law will not be forced to sit on the sidelines of democracy, thanks to a court-ordered alternative option at the polls.
And yet, the state’s effort to spread the word has gotten off to a dismaying start. The court has already had to chide Texas for giving voters inaccurate information about the alternate ID procedure, ordering it to reissue certain pieces of information and to give the law’s challengers previews of forthcoming education materials to ensure they comply with the court’s orders.
Unfortunately, Texas is not the only state to make the news recently for attempting to subvert a court order protecting voters. Citizens in Wisconsin, Kansas, and North Carolina have also had to return to court just to ensure their states comply with new rules to make voting more accessible.
With just 25 days remaining before the 2016 general election, time is running short to ensure voters in these states, and across the country, have the correct information.
Texas, for one, doesn’t seem to care. Instead of devoting more time and resources to accurate and sufficient voter education before the election, it worked on a petition (filed late last month) asking the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in after Election Day. This is despite the fact that the strict photo ID law has been found to be illegally discriminatory by four courts over a span of five years.
This legal effort to defend a discriminatory law has already cost Texas taxpayers over $3.5 million. Meanwhile, officials have budgeted “slightly more than” $2.5 million for the statewide voter education campaign. That comes out to a mere 15 cents per eligible voter for education efforts that, as noted, leave a lot to be desired.
Things started off okay. In early August, Texas joined plaintiffs in proposing an alternative ID procedure to the court. But the materials the state began distributing shortly afterward did not accurately communicate which citizens could take advantage of it.
After state officials repeatedly ignored plaintiffs’ concerns about inaccuracies in this campaign, they found themselves back in court on September 19. The judge called the state’s education efforts “a mess” and issued another order. It directed Texas to correct inaccuracies and to provide plaintiffs an opportunity to preview other information that goes out, from training materials to advertisement scripts.
Notwithstanding this scrutiny, some Texas officials are doing their best to intimidate anyone considering using the alternative ID procedure.
During the September 19 hearing, the court also considered public statements by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the county clerk of Texas’s largest county, Stan Stanart. Both officials have told the press they full intent to investigate and possibly prosecute those who use the alternative ID process.
When presented with these officials’ intimidating statements, the judge spoke out forcefully, saying: “I thought we're trying to help people who don't have these IDs, can't reasonably obtain them, I thought we were trying to facilitate their voting. But no, that's not what it sounds like where the interest is.”
The alternative option at the polls is a major victory for Texas voters who face difficulties in getting photo ID — but only to the extent they are informed and able to access it. Given the events of the last few months, it is clear that significant work, and vigilance, is still needed to ensure that eligible voters in Texas and around the country are not once again disenfranchised by the governments that are supposed to represent them.