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Voter ID Law Turns Away Texans

A voter who participated in the civil rights movement is turned away from the polls, a citizen is told her military ID isn’t enough to vote, and other stories from on the ground in Texas.

  • Brennan Center for Justice
November 3, 2014

Voters head to the polls tomorrow 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 during early voting. 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.

More stories are here, here, and here. Voters in need of assistance should call 1–866-OUR-VOTE, where trained volunteers are standing by to assist voters and answer any questions they may have.

“He didn’t even look at me. He just told me I couldn’t vote.”

Catherine Overton lives in Pleasant Grove. She is 70 years old and disabled. She has been voting since she was 18 years old. As a black woman who grew up in the South, she does not take her right to vote for granted — she remembers a time when black people couldn’t vote, or do much of anything else white people were allowed to do. She also remembers “getting her behind beat” and thrown in jail when she tried to stand up for her rights.

She moved from Las Vegas to Pleasant Grove in June, and registered to vote. But when she registered, she was not told about the new Texas voter ID law. She has a valid Nevada driver’s license, but she does not have a Texas license as the law requires.

When she went to vote early, the poll worker, a white man, told her that she could not vote with her Nevada license — she needed a Texas ID. When she asked why her Nevada license was not adequate for proving her identity, she was rudely told “you had time to register to vote, you had time to get a Texas ID.” She thinks her rude treatment was because of the color of her skin — she says growing up as she did, you can just tell when people are prejudiced. She left without voting. The poll worker didn’t even tell her anything about the Election Identification Certificate (EIC) — the “free” ID that is supposed to be available for voting. “He didn’t even look at me. He just told me I couldn’t vote.”

This experience was especially hurtful given the personal sacrifices she made to make our country more inclusive. When she was in 10th grade, she was getting on a train to New Orleans for Mardi Gras when she and her sister were attacked for going on the “white” side of the carriage. She defended herself by hitting a man with a telephone, but she hit a Ku Klux Klan member who was joined by two truckloads of men armed with guns, sticks, and iron pipes. She and her sister were beat. A month later, she met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the first time.

She had also been in high school during the heart of the civil rights struggle. Some of her friends had done a sit-in at the segregated Woolworth’s in McComb and gotten arrested. The principal of her segregated high school said they could not come back to school because they had a police record. So she and some other friends walked out of school, went to the courthouse, and started to pray. While they were praying, they were arrested. She had to go to school away from home in Jackson, Mississippi because she had a police record.

Once she turned 18, she made sure to vote. Voting in Mississippi was not easy when she was young, either — she remembers voting tests such as having to recite part of the Constitution. She moved to California in 1971, and Nevada in 1984. She had not seen those kinds of barriers since she left Mississippi, and thought those days were behind her. She voted regularly without any trouble — until she moved to Texas.

“What if I only had my military ID?”

Sandra McCartney, 69, lives in Wood County and is a regular voter. This time, she knew she would need a picture ID at the polls, so when she went to vote, she presented a military ID. Ms. McCartney’s husband served in the Air Force, and she uses this ID to enter a military base. Since the ID has her picture and an expiration date, the poll worker should have accepted it as ID — but he did not. Instead the poll worker said she could not use a military ID because “it couldn’t be scanned in the system.”

Ms. McCartney tried to argue with the election worker and explain that she could use her military ID to vote, but eventually she gave up. Fortunately, she was able to retrieve her driver’s license and vote with that. But she says if she did not have a driver’s license, she might have been stopped from voting entirely: “What if I had only had my military ID?” The confusion over the acceptance of military ID has gotten some notoriety.

A poll tax by another name

Donna Buesing is 72 years old and has been voting in every election since she turned 18. When she moved to Texas in 1960, she remembers having to pay a poll tax in order to vote — she was shocked to see that kind of obstacle to the ballot.

This year, Ms. Buesing was able to vote by mail, but two of her elderly neighbors needed her help to get the ID they needed to vote in person. Neither of her neighbors would have been able to drive themselves to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) office. One is still working on getting her EIC.

Ms. Buesing said the burdens for obtaining an EIC could be quite significant if a voter doesn’t have a car, and is too frail or physically limited to take the bus, as is one of her neighbors. She believes that calling an EIC a “free ID” is misleading because of the time, effort, and money it takes to obtain some of the needed documents.

Ms. Buesing thinks the elderly “are at the mercy of” the system, and she worries that in order to “be able to vote, cast your ballot and have a say in what’s going on, senior citizens have virtually no option. It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or Republican…we should have our vote count.”

Election Protection Dispatch: $44 to Vote

Election Protection, a nonpartisan coalition formed to ensure all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process, reports the story of Larissa Chernock, who recently moved from California to Dallas, Texas. Her new Texas registration card said she needed a driver’s license to vote, so she thought she would be able to vote with her California license.

Only when she double-checked the ID requirement online to make sure she had acceptable ID did she find out that she needed a Texas license. She had a passport, but it was in California, so she had her friend overnight her passport to Texas. She said the cost of shipping it was $44. She was able to vote Friday, but she is worried about other people being stopped because of the law.

Help is available!

Voters should not be discouraged from exercising their right to vote! Anyone in need of assistance with the new voter identification requirements, or with other questions about the voting process, should call 1–866-OUR-VOTE, where trained volunteers are standing by to assist voters and answer any questions they may have. The hotline is run by Election Protection.