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What You Should Know About Voter ID in Texas

Voters there are facing a new law

November 5, 2018

Cross-posted from The Texas Tribune.

In this year’s elec­tion, Texas voters are facing a new voter iden­ti­fic­a­tion law. For many of them, it’ll mean present­ing one of a short list of photo IDs at the polls before cast­ing a ballot. But voters who face obstacles to obtain­ing one of those photo IDs are still able to vote. Those voters need to present another accept­able docu­ment veri­fy­ing their iden­tity, like a current util­ity bill, and sign a sworn state­ment indic­at­ing the reason that they were unable to obtain one of the accep­ted photo IDs.

It’s a process that requires Texans to remain vigil­ant as they go to the polls, because they cannot always rely on elec­tion offi­cials to get the details of the policy right or to navig­ate mislead­ing inform­a­tion that might be out there. For example, some drivers might have seen a bill­board on the high­way suggest­ing — falsely — that voters need a pass­port in order to vote. Further­more, accord­ing to its own website, the Texas Secret­ary of State’s office has held only one event this year where elec­tion offi­cials have gone into communit­ies to provide free photo IDs to voters that need them, despite a legal require­ment that the state estab­lish a program to do so.

That faint­hearted approach to protect­ing the rights of eligible voters is unac­cept­able, and it is partic­u­larly troub­ling given the history of Texas’ voter ID law.

Texas put in place a version of its voter ID law in 2013, follow­ing dramatic increases in the state’s black and Latino popu­la­tions during the previ­ous decade. That year, voters and voting rights advoc­ates — includ­ing the Bren­nan Center — sued the state to prevent the law’s enforce­ment, arguing that it discrim­in­ated against voters of color.

Our group won crit­ical victor­ies in the courtroom fight. A federal district court twice found that the law viol­ated the U.S. Consti­tu­tion because it was passed with a discrim­in­at­ory purpose, and both the district court and a federal appeals court found that the law viol­ated federal law with its discrim­in­at­ory effect on voters of color.

In response to these damning rulings, the Texas Legis­lature passed the voter ID law that has been in effect during early voting and will be in place on Elec­tion Day this Tues­day. In effect, the new law added an option for voters who have a hard time getting one of the listed forms of photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion: They can present another type of ID from a state list and sign a sworn state­ment that they had a hard time (or “reas­on­able imped­i­ment” to) getting one of the accep­ted photo IDs. In court, Texas claimed — and a federal appeals court ruled — that this new altern­at­ive would remedy the initial law’s legal viol­a­tions.

The addi­tion of the sworn state­ment altern­at­ive was a signi­fic­ant win for Texas voters. But it only works if people know that they can use it. Texas offi­cials must do a better job of prop­erly educat­ing voters about their options — this year and in future elec­tions. And Texas voters must be sure they know their rights as they go to the polls.

If you are a Texas voter and you encounter prob­lems at the polls, call 866-OUR-VOTE for assist­ance.

(Image: Tom Penning­ton/Getty)