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 part one in that series. (Read parts two and three.) Initials are used for voters who wish to remain anonymous.
“I’m a voter”
Sheileh Hejny is 68 and lives in Gun Barrel. She was born in Texas and has voted continuously since she turned 21. Until last November.
Ms. Hejny does not drive anymore, and her driver’s license has expired. She does have photo identification, however — a military survivor’s ID. When she tried to use that to vote during early voting, however, poll workers refused to accept it because they said it was expired. Because of this, she had to vote a provisional ballot. All told, between waiting in line to vote in the first place, then dealing with the ID issue, Ms. Hejny spent close to an hour to vote provisionally.
She could not get that provisional ballot counted within the six days permitted under the law. She said she was instructed to get another photo ID and take it to the courthouse to get her ballot counted. Since she does not drive, however, going to get an ID from the DPS office — 20 miles away in Ahrens — and then going down to the courthouse would have been a major chore.
Ms. Hejny said making her voice heard is very important to her, especially because her husband spent time in military service, and the two of them always voted. She believes voting is her God-given right and privilege, and she “felt like a heel” when they wouldn’t let her vote count this time around — even with a government-issued ID with her picture on it. She will not be stopped again, and plans to vote in the next election — with her military survivor ID in hand. “I’m a voter,” she said.
“The feeling was that as soon as I turned around, they would throw my vote in the trash”
Kim Stanger, 55, is a retired kindergarten teacher who has lived in Ben Wheeler, Texas for the last 14 years. She votes regularly, especially in major elections, and has never had any significant problems — until 2014. First, when she went to her usual polling location, she discovered it had been closed. She travelled through a heavy storm to a second voting location, only to find that was not her polling place either. Finally, on the third try, she arrived at her polling location — 30 minutes away, in the other direction from her home.
When she got to her polling place, she saw a sign that said “photo ID” required, but she was not worried because, although she did not have her driver’s license with her, she had multiple forms of photo identification in addition to her voter registration card. When she tried to cast a ballot, however, she was not allowed because her various identifications did not qualify. She had three forms of photo ID — including one from her former job as a teacher at a Texas public school — in addition to her voter registration card. She also had her library card, and several other documents, including credit cards, with her exact name. However, because she did not have her driver’s license with her, the poll workers would not let her vote — even when she told them her driver’s license number, which she had memorized, and they were able to confirm that she was in the poll book.
Instead, the poll workers said they would “let” her have a provisional ballot, in her words, “like it was a favor.” She was very frustrated by the experience, she said, because “I knew it was my right to vote and I was going to vote no matter what. But the feeling was that as soon as I turned around, they would throw my vote in the trash.”
Even after she cast her provisional ballot, the aggravation continued. She said that she got a letter in the mail about a week later, claiming she had not put her driver’s license number on her provisional ballot envelope — something she knew she had done. She mailed back her driver’s license number the same day, but a couple days later, she got another letter saying that her ballot was rejected for lack of a driver’s license number. Even then, she did not give up: She again mailed back her information and asked for confirmation that it was received — which she never got. Nor did she receive any response to multiple phone calls she made.
The whole experience, which involved travelling through stormy weather and spending hours trying to get her ballot counted — including providing information that clearly proved her identity — left her wondering what, short of a “blood sample,” the state needed to see to let her vote. “It was a very stormy, very ugly day,” she said. “There was wind, there was drenching rain, but I was determined. To me, if you have that many forms of identification, including your voter registration card and three photo IDs and other ID cards, and you always vote in the same location, and you know your driver’s license number, that should be sufficient. By the time I got to the third location I was a drenched rat. I’m a kindergarten teacher and felt like saying to them, ‘Hand me a crayon and just let me vote!’”
“My ID is good enough to get on a military base, but it’s not good enough to vote?”
Daniel Menchaca, 61, lives in El Paso and has worked at a federal agency office in Texas for the last 31 years. He participates in elections regularly, and has been voting at his precinct in a local fire station for many years. This time, when he went to the polls, he was not allowed to cast a regular ballot on Election Day because he did not have his Texas driver’s license with him.
He did have multiple forms of identification at the polls. In addition to his voter registration card, Mr. Menchaca had a government-issued photo identification card: his federal civilian-worker identification from his job at a federal agency. This ID has his picture and an expiration date, he needed to undergo thorough background checks to receive it, and he uses it to get on a military base — which includes a missile range — for his job. Despite both of these forms of identification, however, he was forced to vote provisionally. When he showed his ID, the poll worker told him that “a lot of federal workers are foreigners.”
Mr. Menchaca was instead forced to vote a provisional ballot. However, he was not able to provide the additional documentation needed to make it count in time — in part because the process for doing so was not explained to him. “They made it sound like I just had to fill it out and put it in the box and it would count,” he said. Ultimately, despite showing up at the polls with multiple forms of identification, his vote did not count.
Mr. Menchaca thinks it was unfair that he was not allowed to vote. He sensed that the poll workers knew he was who he said he was, but they thought they had to block him from voting because of the technical requirements of the law — which do not make any sense to him. “I understand that they want you to show an ID, but my card was issued by the federal government. If anything, it is more authentic than a Texas driver’s license. It has a magnetic scan and everything,” Mr. Menchaca said. “I always keep that ID clipped to my shirt, and the military police check it, and look at my face, and verify that I’m on the list, before I can get on the base. My ID is good enough to get on a military base, but it’s not good enough to vote?”
Mr. Menchaca worries about those who do not have a Texas driver’s license. “My mom never had a Texas ID, and now you are being forced to have one to vote. Who are you trying to target?”
“It’s good to have protections, but protections need to work for people”
Ms. B is an 85-year-old regular voter who has lived at her current residence in Fort Worth for 55 years. Her daughter, Ms. R, went to vote with her on Election Day — when the new ID requirement prevented Ms. B’s vote from counting.
Ms. B no longer drives, so her driver’s license has expired. When she showed up to vote, she did not have any of the identification accepted under Texas’s new law. She voted a provisional ballot. There was no way for her to get the identification she needed in time to vote. Her birth certificate was 260 miles away, in Ralls County. Getting a copy of the birth certificate, then getting a photo ID, and then going in to get her provisional ballot counted would have been “quite a burden” according to Ms. R.
According to her daughter, Ms. B was shocked she was not able to vote. Ms. R said it is important to safeguard the election process, but it needs to be done in a sensible manner: “It’s good to have protections, but protections need to work for people.” Because of the strict new identification requirement, and because neither Ms. B nor Ms. R were informed of what ID would be required in advance, Ms. B was not able to vote.