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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.