What's the big deal about getting an ID? You need one, after all, to participate in society in all kinds of other ways — to drive, to get married, to buy beer. Surely the requirement to show an ID on Election Day can't be that burdensome.
This is a common defense of Voter ID laws like the kind now on the books in Texas, ostensibly meant to curb voter fraud. But it glosses over the reality of life for some voters, who may struggle to get around because of disabilities, who may lack the seemingly small sums necessary to pay for documentation, who may not have the flexible scheduling to visit a government office twice, or three times, or more.
Small obstacles like these are magnified in the frantic days leading up to the election — and add to this the confusion that ensues when people who have voted for years are suddenly told at their familiar polling places they don't have what they need this time.
In the end, you get scenarios like this one, described by the Brennan Center forJustice at NYU in a roundup of actual complications arising right now in Texas during early voting:
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.
What's most alarming about stories like this is that poll workers, confronted with such a situation, seemed unfamiliar enough with the new law themselves to explain to McGriff his options. Through the prodding of McMinn, he was eventually given an absentee ballot application and was able to vote by mail. Another woman, who had trouble obtaining an ID because of disabilities, was never told that she qualified for an exemption from the law. This man was never told how to obtain an Election Identification Certificate, or the alternative available to people without a qualifying ID:
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.”
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.
These stories come from both the Brennan Center's own investigation on the ground in Texas and through advocacy organizations working with voters there. Such testimonials don't tell us much about the scale of voters blocked from voting by ID laws. But they offer a window into why the requirement to obtain an ID can be more problematic than it sounds.