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Texas Photo ID Trial Update: Day Three Morning Session

First witness Rev. Peter Johnson testified that as far as “black people voting illegally, it’s hard as hell to get them to vote legally.”

  • Carson Whitelemons
September 4, 2014

After nearly a year of litigation, the Texas photo ID trial started Tuesday, September 2. Visit our trial page for updates from the expected two-week trial as it proceeds.

On the morning of the third day of trial, the court heard from a civil rights organizer, Survey expert Matt Barreto, Ph.D. and two more people who faced burdens obtaining IDs under SB 14.

The first witness was Rev. Peter Johnson, director of the Peter Johnson Institute for Non-Violence. Ezra Rosenberg of Dechert LLP took the lead in questioning.

  • Johnson testified that he works with street gangs, on gun buybacks, and with ex-offenders to increase their job skills. When he was younger, he worked for Dr. Martin Luther King and the SCLC as a student organizer, and he focused on voter registration and political education. He taught people how to pass a literacy test in order to vote, and helped people overcome their fear and intimidation of going to the polls.
  • Johnson stated that he was reluctant to move to Texas as an organizer when he was asked by Dr. King because there was “brutal, violent intimidation” in the state. He testified that “I started receiving threats on my life the night I arrived at my hotel in Dallas.” Johnson also testified that a very, very small percentage of blacks participated in the political process at the time because it was foreign to them.
  • Johnson’s main project was to organize voter registration and GOTV efforts across Texas. He testified it was very difficult to convince people to register: “historically, voting is foreign to us.  It’s something that white people do.  We had to overcome the historical patterns of not participating in the political process . . . it took time and patience to overcome the fear and intimidation.  You could get fired if you registered to vote.” Racial bigotry continues to this day, but it just takes different forms over the years, according to Johnson.
  • Johnson said he believed that SB 14 was passed to “create obstacles” for people to vote. For African Americans, “going to vote, and standing in line to vote, is a big deal. It’s much more important for an 80-year-old black woman to go to the polls, to stand in line, because she remembers when she couldn’t do this.”  He stated that as far as “black people voting illegally, it’s hard as hell to get them to vote legally.”
  • When asked about the importance of voting, Johnson stated that, “I have friends in the graveyard for the right to vote . . . [this is an] attack on the most precious, precious piece of democracy that America has.”

The court heard next from Matt Barreto, an expert for the plaintiffs who teaches at the University of Washington. Chad Dunn took the lead in questioning.

  • Barreto stated that he is a social scientist who conducts analyses of racial trends in U.S., particularly Hispanics and Latinos.
  • He testified that his team conducted a telephone survey of eligible voters in state of Texas to determine their possession of SB 14 eligible IDs. More than 2,000 phone interviews were conducted, which is a larger response rate than many other surveys (surveys of 1000–1200 people are generally considered reliable). In the survey, eligible voters were asked about their basic knowledge of SB 14, whether they possess a qualifying ID, and any possible burdens or barriers they might encounter in attempting to comply with the law. The survey had a 26 percent response rate, which is within the acceptable response rate to ensure accuracy.
  • Barreto testified that according to the survey, 4.7 percent of eligible Caucasian voters lack accepted SB 14 ID,  8.4 percent of eligible black voters lack accepted SB 14 ID, and 11.4 percent of eligible Latino voters lack SB 14 ID. The survey also found a possession disparity among registered voters: 2.1 percent of white registered voters lack SB 14 ID; 4.9 percent of black registered voters lack SB 14 ID; and 6.8 percent of Latino registered voters do not possess SB 14 ID. In terms of overall statewide numbers, Barreto estimated from the survey that for registered voters, 516,000 voters lack acceptable ID, including 230,000 Latinos, 100,000 blacks, and 162,000 whites.
  •  When asked how his results compare to the studies of Herron and Ansolabehere, two other experts in the case, he testified that the results between all three studies were “quite consistent.”
  • Barreto also testified that there are a percentage of people who think they have a valid SB 14 ID, but in fact their responses to the questions indicate they do not. Among eligible voters, this included 3.8 percent of whites, 7 percent of African Americans, and 9.1 percent of Latinos.
  • He found that people with lower income levels and lower levels of educational attainment are also more likely to think they have a qualifying ID when they actually do not. Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed without a high school degree had never heard of an Election Identification Certificate.
  • In terms of ID possession by income, Barreto testified that he and his team found that over 21 percent of eligible voters who earn less than $20,000 annually don’t have eligible ID.  This is compared to 2.6 percent of higher income voters. Barreto stated that these last two numbers are also important because education level and income level are highly correlated with race.
  • He testified that he used the same techniques and methodologies in the Pennsylvania and Wisconsin ID cases.
  • Barreto’s cross was conducted by John Scott, representing the state of Texas. Scott questioned some of the language used in the survey instrument. He also asked if Barreto had attempted to determine the impact of SB 14 on voter turnout, and Barreto stated he had not.

The third witness called on Thursday was Lionel Estrada, a 41 year old black man from Kennedy, Texas. Robert Doggett took the lead during his questioning.

  • Estrada testified he has no car and is employed working odd jobs, including construction jobs. He stated he has gotten to the polls in the past by walking, and that he would like to keep voting.
  • Estrada brought to the courtroom the only photo ID he has to vote: a photocopy of an expired driver’s permit. While he also has a social security card and old worker’s compensation documents, he testified that he does not possess a birth certificate.
  • Estrada stated that he asked his mother’s friend to drive him to a Department of Public Safety office so he could order a new driver license. He paid $60 for it, but it never came in the mail. When he called DPS, they told Estrada he would have to pay surcharges for another one to be sent to him because he does not have auto insurance. Estrada stated that the surcharges would cost $260 over the next three years if he gets a new license. Estrada testified that he doesn’t know how he’ll get back to DPS if he needs to return.

The fourth witness called in court on Thursday was Lenard Taylor, a 65 year old black man from Alice, Texas. Taylor was also questioned by Robert Doggett. Taylor stated that he is retired and takes the bus around town. He testified that he used to use a Texas state ID, but it was lost or misplaced.

  • When he went to get a new ID at DPS, Taylor said he was directed to get a social security card from the social security office. When at the social security office, he was told he couldn’t get a Texas State ID before receiving a social security card.
  • Taylor testified he eventually went to the department of vital statistics to get a birth certificate, which cost him $23. He stated that “$23 meant something to me,” and that he doesn’t have a lot of money left over at the end of the month after paying bills.
  • Taylor stated that he did not know anything about a disability exemption.  He didn’t know how to prove that he’s disabled, or where to go to find out that information.