Texas Counties See Provisional Ballot Numbers Skyrocket After Voter ID Law Goes Into Effect

CREDIT: AP Photo/LM Otero

Even with a paltry 6 percent turnout, thousands of Texans had to sign affidavits or use provisional ballots during November’s election, the first under the state’s new voter ID law. The Dallas News reports that the number of provisional ballots more than doubled in most of the state’s largest counties since the last comparable election in 2011.

The law requires that if voters cannot show a government-issued photo ID at the polls, or if the name or address on the ID do not sufficiently match voter registration forms, they cannot cast a regular ballot. Thanks to a last-minute amendment from state senator Wendy Davis (D), people whose IDs are “substantially similar” but not exactly identical to their voter registration information were allowed to sign affidavits. In Dallas County, the state’s second-most populated counties, one in seven voters had to sign affidavits because of name differences.

In the ten largest counties in the state, voters cast 1,356 provisional ballots, though not all were related to ID issues. More than half of these (704) came from Harris County, the largest in the state and one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the nation.

Excluded from this data are the people who did not even bother to try their luck at the polls because they had already been denied ID. Voting rights organizations estimate that one in ten registered voters in Texas lack the appropriate ID. Though Texas now offers a free voter ID to people who don’t have a driver’s license or other identification, many, including a former state Speaker of the House, have reported being denied the ID multiple times. All in all, just 41 out of 1.4 million people eligible for the free voter ID had received one as of mid-October.

Attorney General Greg Abbott argues this new obstacle is needed to stop supposedly rampant voter fraud, though a Dallas News investigation could only dig up four cases of voter irregularity since 2004 that could have been stopped by the voter ID law. The law flagged a Texas district judge, two state senators, and Abbott himself as potential illegitimate voters, underscoring the room for error.

Other states with voter ID requirements are seeing similar effects. In Virginia, provisional ballots spiked during this year’s high profile gubernatorial election, and more than 60 percent of people lacking ID ultimately had their votes discarded.

The off-year statewide election had far lower turnout than Congressional midterms and presidential elections usually attract, suggesting that the law will have an even more outsize effect in upcoming elections.