Voting is now underway in Texas, a state with one of the strictest voter ID laws in the nation. This is the first federal election since the US 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. 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.
A Costly, Time-Consuming Barrier
Jesus Garcia was born in Texas and lives in Mercedes. He was unable to vote with his driver's license, which expired about a year ago. He went to the Weslaco Department of Public Safety (DPS) office twice and both times was unable to get an ID. His birth certificate was stolen and he does not have a copy. He wants to get identification, but to get both a replacement birth certificate and a new ID would be more than $30 combined. He is working a lot of hours, but money is tight. With rent, water, electricity, and everything else, Mr. Garcia is not sure he will be able to afford those documents, much less before the election.
Even if he does have the money, he will need to go through the whole process of getting the documents and going to the office again, when he has already tried to vote once and gone to a DPS office twice. Mr. Garcia thinks it is unfair that he cannot vote with the documents he has. He was born here and he has an ID with his picture on it; it's just expired. He has a voter registration card, and voted in past elections.
Deputized to Register But Denied the Ballot
Krystal Watson is a student at Wiley College in Texas, a historically black college. She is originally from Louisiana and has voted in past elections in Texas. This year, she signed up as a deputy registrar and registered about 100 people to vote. The person who deputized her told her the registration rules but not about the new voter ID requirement. When she herself went to vote, she was not allowed to cast a ballot because she had a Louisiana driver's license and a Wiley College ID, but not the ID required by the law.
Ms. Watson stated that she has observed many other students having trouble voting. She didn't know whether she would be have the time or resources to get an identification card, which would require her to bring in her birth certificate.
"You can't vote with this card"
Mr. R is an American in his 30s who lives in the small southern Texas town of Edcouch. He and his wife were both turned away from the polls last week because they do not have satisfactory identification under the new ID law. Mr. R had a driver's license that was valid until 2015, but it was taken away from him in connection with a DUI. Mr. R tried to use a driver's license that expired in 2009 — which he had used successfully to vote at the same polling location the last time he voted — as identification. This time, when he went to the polls during early voting, he was told, "You can't vote with this card."
The poll workers Mr. R encountered were unfamiliar with the basics under the new strict photo ID law. Mr. R. was not told anything about how to get an Election Identification Certificate (EIC), the allegedly free ID available to people who want to vote, but don't have a qualifying ID. Nor was he offered a provisional ballot, which would have given him additional time to obtain ID. Mr. R said he was unlikely to go and get an EIC once he learned that he'd have to procure it from the DPS, a law enforcement agency, because he owes traffic fines he can't afford.
Disabled Voters Can Participate — But Only If Family Members Foot the Bill...
Esmeralda Torres is a disabled American who lives in Elsa. She first learned about the new ID law when she tried to vote. She was blocked because she didn't have acceptable ID. Her disabilities preclude her from driving and make it hard for her to get around. Ms. Torres had previously tried to get an ID but had been rejected because she lived with her sister and had few documents containing both her name and her physical address.
Ms. Torres was eventually able to get a Texas state ID, but only because she has a supportive and strong advocate in her sister, who took time off of work to drive Ms. Torres to a DPS office, and loaned her the $16 necessary to pay for a Texas state ID (she chose to get a Texas state ID rather than an EIC because an EIC cannot be used for any purposes other than voting). Ms. Torres might have qualified for an exemption to the Texas photo ID law for people with disabilities, but no one — not even the poll workers who blocked her from voting the first time — ever told her of this option.
...Or Heroic Volunteers Step In
Olester McGriff, an African-American man, lives in Dallas. He has voted in several Texas elections. This year when he went to the polls he was unable to vote due to the new photo ID law. Mr. McGriff had a kidney transplant and can no longer drive; his driver's license expired in 2008. He tried to get an ID twice prior to voting. In May, he visited an office in Grand Prairie and was told he could not get an ID because he was outside of Dallas County. In July, he visited an office in Irving and was told they were out of IDs and would have to come back another day.
He is unable to get around easily. Mr. McGriff got to the polls during early voting because Susan McMinn, an experienced election volunteer, gave him a ride. He brought with him his expired driver's license, his birth certificate, his voter registration card, and other documentation, but none were sufficient under Texas's new photo ID requirement. Getting the EIC would have been difficult for him — it would have required multiple additional trips and he cannot drive.
Despite his health and mobility problems, the poll workers did not suggest that he vote by absentee ballot — an option available to him because he had a disability. Eventually, he was given an absentee ballot application, but it was only because, Ms. McMinn, the volunteer, suggested the idea, and then pushed a poll worker to review the rules after having already told Mr. McGriff it was too late. After the poll worker confirmed her mistake, Mr. McGriff was able to get an absentee ballot application. But when he tried to get stamps at the election office, election workers did not inform him that his absentee ballot would include return postage, so Ms. McMinn and Mr. McGriff had to spend additional time driving around in search of postage. Ms. McMinn paid the $2 in postage, as Mr. McGriff is living on a tight budget. She drove him back to drop off his application, and a few days later he successfully voted by mail.
Even With Help, Would-Be Voters Turned Away
Gary Gross has been serving as a get-out-the-vote volunteer, giving voters rides to the polls during early voting. He encountered a voter who could not meet the new photo ID requirement. Even after Mr. Gross spent more than an hour trying to help the voter find out the rules from election officials, the voter was unable to cast a ballot or get the identification he needed. The voter's driver's license expired in March — there was no question as to the voter's identity, but the ID did not count. Through Mr. Gross' help, the voter found out he is theoretically eligible for a "free" election identification certificate, but the voter does not have a birth certificate, so he lacks the documentation he needs to get the EIC.
Countless Others Disenfranchised
No one knows how many other voters are being turned away because of the draconian new law. For example, one election official reported that in one day of early voting at a single site, seven voters were turned away because they had expired or insufficient ID. One can only hope that as poll workers become more familiar with the new system, legitimate voters will be allowed to cast ballots — or at least furnished with the correct information on how to do so.
Help Is Available!
Voters 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, a nonpartisan coalition of voter protection organizations.