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Texas Photo ID Trial Update: Wrapping Up the First Day of Trial

Testimony from the afternoon witnesses in the Texas Photo ID case: Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, Professor Stephen Ansolabehere, U.S. Congressman Marc Veasey, and Elizabeth Gholar.

  • Vishal Agraharkar
September 3, 2014

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

The first day of the Texas voter ID trial wrapped up well. The morning session saw opening statements from both parties and the testimony of two individuals whose votes were rejected because of SB 14.

In the afternoon session, the court heard from two legislators who voted against SB 14, one of the plaintiffs’ key experts, and another woman who does not have ID that is accepted under SB 14.

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democratic member of the Texas House of Representative, and a member of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, was the first to testify about the events leading up to the passage of SB 14.

  • He noted that the 2011 legislative session was very tense, as it came on the heels of a census which reflected huge Hispanic growth. Legislators introduced anti-Hispanic measures including English-only laws and rejected Obamacare when Hispanics were the highest uninsured group. Martinez Fisher testified that there were proposed amendments to allow voters to prove their identity with IDs of government subjurisdictions, and college and university IDs, but both were rejected. He also testified that the passing of SB 14 was marred by various legislative irregularities. For instance, key rules were ignored and impact reports were generated but not presented to the legislature.
  • On cross-examination, Martinez Fischer was asked whether this was really a Republican-Democratic thing. He responded that as for voting issues, it was not about Republicans versus Democrats, but about protecting the minority vote.

The Department of Justice then called Professor Stephen Ansolabehere, Professor of Government at Harvard University, who conducted a study of ID possession rates among Texas voters by matching voter databases to databases of people who hold various forms of acceptable ID.

  • Dr. Ansolabehere testified that blacks in Texas are twice as likely not to possess SB 14 ID, and Hispanics in Texas 40–50 percent more likely not to possess SB 14 ID than are whites. One of the methods of analysis he used to slice the data, known as ecological regression, yielded the conclusion that 12 percent of blacks, 9 percent of Hispanics, and 4 percent of whites lack qualifying ID.
  • He testified also that Texas is one of the best states at keeping its voter rolls updated, as only 3 percent of the rolls show up as “deadwood.”
  • Dr. Ansolabehere concluded that “Minority voters are significantly less likely to possess the requisite ID and they will be affected more than other voters.”
  • On cross examination, the state pointed out various discrepancies in the no-match list prepared by Dr. Ansolabehere. For example, certain witnesses in this case were inaccurately listed as white in the database when they were in fact black.
  • When asked if these discrepancies might invalidate his analysis, Dr. Ansolabehere said that it would not, because he had sliced the data in multiple ways and got the same results through each analysis.

U.S. Congressman Marc Veasey, a former Texas state representative and an African American, then testified about his experience as a member of the state legislature during the passage of SB 14.

  • Veasey testified that he was kicked out of an election committee meeting during discussion of voter ID without any reason given. The chairman of the committee was white.
  • Veasey testified that the Select Committee on Elections did not investigate any allegations of voter fraud, did not conduct any studies, and did not provide any proof of voter fraud despite requests for such proof by other legislators.
  • Veasey stated that he offered amendments to minimize the impact of SB 14 on his constituents, but all of them were voted down. He noted that although he voiced concerns and proposed changes to the bill, the obvious message from the select committee was that the bill was ready to go, pre-packaged, and changes were not going to be accepted.
  • Veasey testified that he strongly believes SB 14 was passed with racially discriminatory intent.

The first day of trial concluded with the testimony of Elizabeth Gholar, a 76-year-old African-American woman who does not have an acceptable form of ID to vote.

  • Ms. Gholar testified she was born at home by midwife in Louisiana in 1938. Her birth certificate, filled out by the midwife, contains inaccurate and missing information, as it lists her mother’s maiden name as her last name, and omits her father’s last name. She testified it was common in the 1930s for African-American mothers to give birth at home, and all of her siblings were born at home instead of a hospital.
  • Ms. Gholar testified she has a Louisiana Driver License, and attempted to get an acceptable ID under SB 14 in the fall of 2013. She took a trip to the DPS with her Louisiana Driver License, her social security card, and her medicare card, but was told that she had to have a birth certificate and that all the names would have to match.
  • She went back to the DPS a second time to get an EIC, thinking it would be easier, but she was unable to get anything unless she amended her birth certificate to have her father’s last name.
  • Ms. Gholar contacted a lawyer in Louisiana to get the birth certificate amended, and is waiting to hear on the results. She testified that she does not know how long the process will take, or what it will entail. She thinks she may have to travel to Louisiana to get it.
  • Ms. Gholar testified that she is a registered voter, wants to vote in the upcoming elections because, “I have a voice,” and testified that she feels she has earned the right to vote in person. “Voting is a right that everybody else had, and it’s a celebration, and it’s been taken away again.”

Visit our trial page for background on the case and updates from the three-week trial.