Politics

Texas Election Judge Had To Turn Away 93-Year-Old Veteran Due To Strict Voter ID Law

CREDIT: Emily Atkin

A sign points to an early voting location in Houston, Texas.

HOUSTON, TEXAS — 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.”

Under Texas’ new voter ID law, one of the strictest in the nation, citizens are required to present one of seven forms of photo identification to vote. The identification can be a Texas-issued driver’s license, a federally-issued veteran’s ID card, or a gun registration card, among other forms. Licenses can be expired, but not for more than 60 days.

The man Parsley said he had to turn away was a registered voter, but his license had been expired for a few years, likely because he had stopped driving. Parsley said the man had never gotten a veteran’s identification card. And though he had “all sorts” of other identification cards with his picture on it, they weren’t valid under the law — so the election judges told him he had to go to the Department of Public Safety, and renew his license.

“He just felt real bad, you know, because he’s voted all his life,” Parsley said.

As of Sunday evening, almost 137,000 Harris County voters had cast early in-person ballots. Those ballots were cast just days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state’s controversial voter ID law, crafted to prevent in-person voter fraud, could be implemented for the election.

That ruling also came with a fiery dissent from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who said voter fraud was not a real problem in Texas and that the law seemed “purposefully discriminatory,” making voting harder for low-income, minority, and elderly populations. Indeed, as Ginsburg wrote, “there were only two in-person voter fraud cases prosecuted to conviction in Texas” from 2002 until 2011, while at the same time it’s been estimated that the law could disenfranchise approximately 600,000 mostly black and Latino voters.

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.”

Parsley, however, said the process of some people getting rejected at the ballot always happens in Texas, mostly because of how often state the voting laws are amended and changed. So far, he said, the amount of rejections haven’t been more than normal.

“At this location [in Downtown Houston], the people rejected are a drop in the bucket. Maybe a tenth of a percent,” he said. “If we were near an old folk’s home, maybe that’d be a different story.”