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Will Texas Get Voter ID Right on Election Day?

Texas’s record-setting 15 million registered voters’ access to the ballot depends on their state’s compliance (or lack thereof) with a court-mandated softening of its strictest-in-the-nation photo ID law.

  • Erin Kelley
  • Jennifer L. Clark
November 8, 2016
Right now, voters across the county are heading to the polls to cast their ballots. This includes many of Texas’s record-setting 15 million registered voters, whose access to the ballot depends on their state’s compliance (or lack thereof) with a court-mandated softening of its strictest-in-the-nation photo ID law.
Unfortunately, the state’s poor track record during early voting does not forecast well for this important day.
After the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July that Texas’s strict photo ID law discriminates against African American and Latino Texans, the trial court mandated that voters who don’t have one of the seven approved forms of photo ID, and face an obstacle to getting one, can still vote a regular ballot, simply by providing one of a larger number of alternate IDs and filling out a single-page affidavit.
The court entered this order on August 10, well over two months before the beginning of early voting. This election is the first statewide test of the alternative ID process and, by many measures, it did not go well. As Texans lined up at early voting sites in record-breaking numbers over the past-two weeks, problems abounded.
  • There have been numerous reports from voters of poll workers conveying inaccurate information on photo ID. A voter in Dallas County reported that poll workers were requiring all voters to show a photo ID, even when directly asked about the alternative for those who face an obstacle to getting one. Another voter reported that the poll workers at her polling place seemed confused about the process, and conveyed that voters had to show both a photo ID and one of the alternate IDs in order to vote.
  • Multiple reports from Harris County, beginning on the first day of early voting and continuing at least 10 days later despite outreach, revealed that officials at various sites were walking up and down the lines of waiting voters, announcing that photo ID was required to vote, without any mention of the alternative option for those who qualify.
  • Starting on the first day of early voting and running well into the second week, reports made abundantly clear that election officials were failing to display accurate information for voters at polling sites. Voters from at least 15 counties have reported that the signs at their early voting locations omitted reference to the alternative process altogether. Others said it wasn’t until getting to the check-in desk that voters got any information about the reasonable impediment process; the signs outside and along the lines mentioned only photo ID. In Bexar County, the improper signage problem was so bad that a county judge had to issue a temporary restraining order just to get the county to use signs that accurately reflect current voter ID requirements.
  • Reports were received from multiple counties, including Bell County, that voters who could not present a photo ID received no explanation about the alternative process.
  • Reports from Bexar and Denton Counties reveal that poll workers were challenging voters who claimed an inability to obtain an approved photo ID. One Denton County voter, who previously had a photo ID but lost it, was incorrectly told to vote a provisional ballot because losing an ID was not a sufficient reason to use the alternative process.
  • There were multiple reports of poll workers emphasizing the threat of possible perjury prosecutions to voters who use the reasonable impediment process. One Harris County election judge told the Houston Chronicle that these warnings dissuaded would-be voters from casting ballots.
These reports surely represent only the tip of the iceberg, as voters reporting such problems would themselves have to be fully up to date on the confusing litigation history of the law, and take the time out to inform advocates of the problems they witnessed.
Today marks the first presidential election since Texas implemented SB 14 in 2013. It should also mark the first time in three years that voters who face a burden to getting photo ID — who are disproportionately African American and Latino Texans — to vote can cast a ballot that counts.
But, given this poor track record so far, stay tuned to see if this promise is fulfilled on Election Day.
(Photo: ThinkStock)