If you pay attention to the mainstream news, you may think that Texas’ first “test run” of the new Voter ID law is going quite well in the 2013 elections. Early voting procedures have been “largely successful” … at least that’s the line that many in the GOP are trying to spin. Of course many reasonable Texans probably don’t define success has having to sign an affidavit or use a provisional ballot that might be thrown out. But here’s something to keep in mind… even with the extra prohibitions, most voters showing up in 2013 are the ones most committed and most able to vote. They are by and large the people that will have their photo ID, and will go through the trouble of signing an affidavit. They are the people that will even ask for a Provisional Ballot if they don’t have photo ID. In short, 2013 is such a light election turnout that you’re not going to see the same issues that will occur in 2014’s national election. The huge number of voters that have been annoyed… nearly 1 in 4 Texans that early voted had to sign an affidavit… were so determined to cast their ballot that they did whatever it takes. In a state where so few people vote to begin, this just won’t be the case in a higher turnout election. Many people are going to give up entirely.
Just today, I spoke to Dr. Martha Serpas, Professor of English at the University of Houston. She is a resident of the Eastwood neighborhood, and went to go vote at Ripley House. When she went to the polling location, she told the election workers that she did not have a photo ID, and asked to vote by Provisional Ballot. According to the new law, this is the procedure… no photo ID means that you are to be allowed to vote by Provisional Ballot. But in Professor Serpas’ case, they denied her request for the Provisional Ballot, and told her she could not vote without a proper photo ID. She was clearly frustrated by the experience, and told me about it directly.
Granted, this is one isolated case, but it begs a question. Now that it is Election Day, how many people are going to vote at Ripley House, and being turned away because their election workers aren’t following the parameters of the law? Keep in mind that just 12 months ago, Texans were not required to have a photo ID… they could come and cast their vote by showing any legal document with their name and address. That includes things like a utility bill, student ID, marriage certificate or other documents. Even with all of the recent press surrounding the new law, most people still have no clue about the changes. In an inner city neighborhood, many residents do not drive, and don’t even own a car. No driving means they have little if any use for a Driver’s license. If these people show up to vote today, they are being caught off guard. And if they show up to vote at places like Ripley House, they are being turned away, and not even offered a Provisional Ballot.
If you’re in Texas, have you heard of any similar stories at your polling place? If so, please share them in the comments. As we approach the 2014 elections, these occurrences need to be documented in every way possible.
CRITICAL UPDATE on this story…
After speaking with Dr. Serpas, I learned some additional information that must be included. She went to vote at the above location on Election Day, but she told me that she normally votes early. This is an important point, because on Election Day, you are only allowed to vote at your designated precinct. When she showed up on Election Day at Ripley House, it was the wrong location for her to be able to cast her vote. So the poll workers would’ve been correct in denying her a Provisional Ballot at that location, and should have instead directed her to the proper polling site.
However, Dr. Serpas says, that they never even checked what her proper polling location should’ve been. She simply says that they asked her for photo ID. When she said she didn’t have one with her and asked for a Provisional Ballot, they turned her away without verifying her information. It would be one thing to deny ballot because it’s the wrong location, but if you’re not going to check, then the error still lies with the Election Officials.