Just weeks after Americans experienced the full force of new laws making it harder to vote, the Brennan Center for Justice today launched a new web series — Voting 2014: Stories from the States — to share stories of citizens who have been unfairly impacted by these new restrictions.
In the 2014 election, new voting restrictions were in place in 21 states — 14 for the first time in a federal election. These laws ranged from voter ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration limits.
The first two installments study Texas — where a strict photo ID law was in effect for the first time in a federal election — and Iowa, where an executive action made it harder to restore voting rights to people with past criminal convictions.
Voters were confused, disheartened, and even disenfranchised by Texas’s photo ID law, which the U.S. Supreme Court allowed to go into effect despite a federal court ruling showing it to be discriminatory. More than 600,000 registered Texas voters do not have the required ID, including a disproportionate number of African Americans and Latinos, a federal judge found.
The Brennan Center spoke to several voters who struggled with the new ID requirement.
- People with IDs they believed to be valid were turned away. Chris Ponce, for example, was not able to vote because his Texas driver’s license had expired in August, just weeks before the cutoff.
- Poll workers gave incorrect information to voters. Sandra McCartney was told her military ID was inadequate, even though that is legally one of the accepted forms of identification.
- The “free ID” alternative proved costly and, in some cases, almost impossible to obtain. Jesus Garcia wants to get identification, but to get both a replacement birth certificate (his was stolen) and a new ID would be more than $30, which he can’t afford at this time.
In 2014, tens of thousands of Iowans couldn’t vote because of a past criminal conviction. Three years ago, Gov. Terry Branstad (R), who won re-election on November 4, issued an executive order permanently disenfranchising people with criminal convictions unless they apply to have their rights restored by his office. Iowa is one of just three states with this kind of extreme restriction, which disproportionately burdens African Americans.
Prior to Branstad’s order, Iowa automatically restored voting rights upon completion of a felony sentence. In six years, 80,000 Iowans had their rights restored. By contrast, in the first three years with the new restrictive policy in effect, nearly 25,000 people completed felony sentences, but a mere 40 individuals successfully regained their voting rights.
The Iowa analysis features stories of two voters affected by the state’s strict policy.
- The Brennan Center interviewed Richard Straight, who wants to vote, and would consider running for his local city council office if he could. He has tried to bring policy issues to the attention of his city council, but realizes that, until he has a vote, his opinion isn’t worth much to politicians: “As much as I would like them to discuss [the issues I care about], they don’t listen to me because I don’t vote. That’s one of the things that is done to [formerly incarcerated people].”
- Kelli Jo Griffin is challenging Branstad’s policy in Iowa state court. In 2008, Ms. Griffin was told her right to vote would be restored in 2013 when she completed probation. Although that was accurate at the time, no one from the state alerted her to Branstad’s 2011 executive order, which rendered her ineligible to vote. So, when she took her children to the polling place with her in 2013 to teach them about the importance of voting, she unknowingly cast an illegal ballot. Ms. Griffin was investigated for voter fraud. Although a jury acquitted her of wrongdoing in under an hour, her story provides a worrisome example of how Iowa’s policy ensnares individuals who do not understand their rights.
See the Brennan Center’s entire series, Voting 2014: Stories from the States.
For more information, or to set up an interview, please contact Erik Opsal at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646–292–8356.