Take the situation in Texas, where Democrat Wendy Davis lost badly to Republican Greg Abbott in the gubernatorial race. More important than her expected defeat is that the Lone Star State had the lowest voter turnout in the country at 33%, down from 38% four years earlier. It’s difficult to determine to what precise extent Texas’s new voter ID law is to blame for the poor turnout, but “there are somewhere between 600,000 and 1.4 million registered voters in Texas without state ID,” according to Kathleen Unger, whose nonprofit, VoteRiders, works to get people the documents they need to vote. Working through local organizations, two-year-old VoteRiders went into Houston’s Harris County this year in response to what Unger called its “very restrictive” voter ID law.
Despite such efforts, some Texans were still unable to vote. Think Progress’ Alice Ollstein recently documented how some Texas voters were dropped from the rolls or denied ballots because they couldn’t afford new IDs. Ollstein couldn’t quantify such incidents, but a recent Government Accountability Office report on voter ID laws in Tennessee and Kansas found they decreased turnout in those two states in 2012. In Texas, there are indications the same thing happened this year, including the fact that provisional ballots increased by half on Tuesday to 16,463, an uptick from the 8,000 issued in 2010. Provisional ballots are given to voters who have difficulty proving their eligibility, and because some thwarted voters don’t even bother to cast them, they are a proxy for larger problems.
HOUSTON – A day before Texans go to the polls, an unusual group gathered for lunch at a Mexican restaurant not far from downtown: an unemployed African-American grandmother; a University of Houston student originally from Pennsylvania; a pregnant mother who had recently moved back to the area with her family; and a low-income white woman who struggled to make eye contact and kept her money in a pack strapped around her waist.
...Eventually, that woman was able to obtain identification and vote last week after getting help from VoteRiders, a grassroots group that works to get voter IDs for those who need them, and which organized Monday’s lunch. Kathleen Unger, a veteran California lawyer and philanthropy professional, founded the group last year in response to the recent wave of Republican voting restrictions. But despite VoteRiders’ efforts, the voters they can help on a shoestring budget likely amount to a drop in the bucket of Texans without ID (See list below).
A day before Texans go to the polls, an unusual group gathered for lunch at a Mexican restaurant not far from downtown: an unemployed African-American grandmother; a University of Houston student originally from Pennsylvania; a pregnant mother who had recently moved back to the area with her family; and a low-income white woman who struggled to make eye contact and kept her money in a pack strapped around her waist.
They had not met each other before, but they had one thing in common: Thanks to Texas’s strict voter ID law, they all faced massive hurdles in casting a vote. Over fish tacos and guacamole, they shared their stories—hesitantly at first, then with growing eagerness as they realized they weren’t alone in being victimized by their state.
Lindsay Gonzales, 36, has an out-of-state driver’s license, which isn’t accepted under the ID law. Despite trying for months, she has been unable to navigate an astonishing bureaucratic thicket in time to get a Texas license she can use to vote. “I’m still a little bit in shock,” said Gonzales, who is white, well-educated, and politically engaged. “Because of all those barriers, the side effect is that I don’t get to participate in the democratic process. That’s something I care deeply about and I’m not going to be able to do it.”
As Texas prepares for its first high-turnout election with the voter ID law in place, the state has scrambled to reassure residents that it’s being proactive in getting IDs to those who need them, and that few voters will ultimately be disenfranchised. But those claims are belied by continued reports of legitimate Texans who, despite often Herculean efforts, still lack the identification required to exercise their most fundamental democratic right. ...
Next to Gonzales sat Adam Alkhafaji, a student at the University of Houston, who turned 18 in September and was excited to vote for the first time. But to prove his residency and get a Texas ID, he needed a residential housing agreement, a birth certificate, and a Social Security card, none of which he had. Overwhelmed with school, he ran out of time. “It’s almost like a milestone in your life: You take your first steps, then you get your driver’s license, and then you exercise your right to vote,” Alkhafaji said. “I’m more than disappointed.”
A Houston woman who asked to be identified as Sister J said she put her valuables in storage after a robbery. When she went back later to retrieve her ID and birth certificate, they were missing. And another local woman—an African-American who asked to remain anonymous because she’s looking for a job—said she lost her driver’s license recently, then was given conflicting information by staffers at the Department of Public Safety (DPS) as she tried to get an ID.
Eventually, that woman was able to obtain identification and vote last week after getting help from VoteRiders, a grassroots group that works to get voter IDs for those who need them, and which organized Monday’s lunch. Kathleen Unger, a veteran California lawyer and philanthropy professional, founded the group last year in response to the recent wave of Republican voting restrictions. But despite VoteRiders’ efforts, the voters they can help on a shoestring budget likely amount to a drop in the bucket of Texans without ID.
Of course, a comprehensive drive to get IDs to the estimated 600,000 registered Texas voters who lack them should have come from the state. But as a U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos found last month in a scathing ruling, Texas’s outreach was utterly ineffective: By the end of August, it had given out just 279 IDs.
Texas’s ID law, passed by Republicans in 2011, is the nation’s strictest. As Alkhafaji found out, it doesn’t allow student IDs, though it does allow concealed handgun permits. Texas has been able to point to just two cases since 2000 of in-person voter impersonation fraud of the kind that the ID requirement would prevent.
Every document Casper Pryor could think of that bore his name was folded in the back pocket of his jeans. But sitting on a curb Thursday, a can of Sprite in hand, Pryor wasn't sure whether those papers and the hour-long bus ride he had taken to get to Holman Street would result in a crucial new piece of ID. An ID that would allow the 33-year-old Houston native to vote.
Election identification certificates were designed for the 600,000 to 750,000 voters who lack any of the six officially recognized forms of photo ID needed at the polls, according to estimates developed by the Texas secretary of state and the U.S. Department of Justice. Legislators created the EICs, which are free, in part to quell criticism that enforcing the state's much-litigated ID law amounted to a poll tax that could disenfranchise low-income and minority voters.
But as of Thursday, only 371 EICs had been issued across Texas since June 2013. By comparison, Georgia issued 2,182 free voter ID cards during its first year enforcing a voter ID law in 2006, and Mississippi has issued 2,539 in the 10 months its new law has been in place. Both states accept more forms of photo identification at polls than Texas does, so fewer voters there would need to apply for election-specific IDs.
In Texas, some would-be voters are hitting roadblocks.
Pryor said he has been spending more than four hours each trip trying to obtain an EIC, and he's been back and forth several times. Though the cards are free, there are transportation costs and fees for supporting documents.
"It turned into a full-time job," he said. "Going here, going there, it'll make you give up."
The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld the Texas voter identification law, which requires voters to show an approved form of picture ID in order to vote at a poll. Those who are already registered and who are qualified to vote by mail can still cast a ballot and the state provides free election certificates to those who can prove their U.S. citizenship and residence in Texas. ...
Marianela Acuna of VoteRiders, a non-profit [non-partisan] group, said there are many reasons why someone may not have an approved form of identification.
“There are people who need to renew their ID, there are also people who need to get their ID for the first time and do not have documents to prove their name change or their birth,” said Acuna.
In the six days that early voting has been underway in Texas, election judge William Parsley on Sunday said he has only seen one potential voter turned away at his polling location, the Metropolitan Multi-Services Center in downtown Houston.
“An elderly man, a veteran. Ninety-three years old,” Parsley, an election judge for the last 15 years, told ThinkProgress. “His license had expired.” ...
With the voting process in such early stages, it’s hard to say how many people will be affected this time around. But poll monitors in Houston say they’ve already encountered problems with some registered voters not being allowed to cast their ballots.
“We had a voter show up with her Mississippi ID, and it’s a valid ID with a picture and name,” said Marianela Acuña Arreaza, the Texas coordinator for VoteRiders, a non-profit that helps people obtain their voter ID so they can vote. “Her name matched her voter registration, but it’s not one of the IDs that the law requires.”
“She was offered a provisional ballot, but she refused,” Acuña Arreaza continued. “She came out and told the poll monitors.”
In partnership with Common Cause, another non-profit that lobbies for voting rights, Acuña Arreaza is organizing and dispatching poll monitors in Houston who seek to help people who are turned away at the polls. From the time early voting started in Houston, Acuña Arreaza said she’s seen about 10 cases of registered voters not being allowed to vote — a number that was less than she expected, but “still too many.”
Acuña Arreaza and Parsely are both hopeful that the voters turned away for early voting will be able to get some form of acceptable ID by Election Day. But one thing that worries Acuña Arreaza is that the process of getting turned away can sometimes be so embarrassing that people get dejected — they don’t want to come back, and they don’t want to tell anyone what happened.
“We try to encourage people to come back, but what we’re worried about is that we may just lose that ballot as a whole,” she said. “A lot of people are ashamed of being rejected, and they just don’t want to talk about it. We have so many cases, but not everyone wants to come out and speak about it.”
The Harris County AFL-CIO Council would like to inform you about the Texas Voter ID services available in Harris County.
VoteRiders is a national 501(c)(3) non-partisan, non-profit organization focused on making sure that no eligible citizen is denied his or her right to vote for lack of ID that complies with the law.
VoteRiders is reaching out to local organizations and unions to find and help Texas citizens who have questions or need voter ID assistance. The organization is ready to assist voters at any level of the voter ID assistance spectrum: from fixing their name on their ID to requesting birth certificates from out-of-state to obtain a new ID.
...According to a recent Texas on the Brink Report, Texas is 51st (read: dead last) in women’s voter turnout and 47th in women’s voter registration. Furthermore, a recently enforced Texas Voter ID law is said to make it harder for minority populations to vote...
Marianela Acuña-Arreaza is the Texas Coordinator for VoteRiders, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focusing on making sure that no eligible citizen is denied his or her right to vote for lack of ID. She says that obtaining an appropriate photo ID can be more difficult than people think, especially for people of color and women. “Many women may change their names after they marry or divorce, and if their name doesn’t match the name that is on their voter file, they may be given a provisional ballot [instead of a regular ballot] at the polls,” Acuña-Arreaza says.