Voting in Texas was plagued by long lines, issues with registration and voter ID, and intimidation, hitting blacks and Latinos hardest, a new report finds.
Released Thursday by the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP), the report underscores how Texas voters face challenges that go well beyond the voter ID law that has generated national attention. And it makes clear that, despite state Republicans’ focus on stopping fraud, the number of eligible voters currently being kept from the polls by a range of issues is exponentially greater than the number of fraudulent votes.
Last year, Texas saw an increase of over 800,000 voters compared to the two previous presidential elections, thanks to a growing population, especially Hispanics. But its voting system appears to have failed to keep pace.
“From the discriminatory photo ID law to the numerous issues with voter registration, Texans deserved better,” Beth Stevens, TCRP’s voting rights director, said in a statement.
Data collected for the report by election protection volunteers during Texas’s 2016 election turned up a host of voting problems:
Voter registration issues: Hundreds of people called the election protection hotline to say that they weren’t listed on the rolls even though they believed they were registered. In many cases, this was caused by slight discrepancies in their name or address. Often, voters then had to call the county directly to be able to vote. In other cases, it appears to have been the result of what the report calls Texas’s failure to follow federal voting law governing people who register at the motor vehicles department. The report called Texas’s voter registration system “archaic and outdated.”
– Confusion over voter ID: Over 200 people called the hotline to report issues with the ID law. In September, a federal judge ordered that those without acceptable photo ID be able to vote by showing non-photo ID and signing an affidavit. But, the report noted, during the first few days of early voting, many polling locations continued to post signs misleadingly saying photo ID was required. One Harris County man brought his voter registration card and utility bill but was wrongly turned away, and was only able to vote when he returned with an election protection volunteer. Texans also reported that they heard poll workers incorrectly tell voters that a photo ID would be needed to vote. And a Travis County election judge — under Texas’s system, each site has a poll worker who’s officially in charge — illegally required that voters without ID cast a provisional ballot, according to the report. These findings jibe with the results of a separate study released in April, which found widespread confusion over the ID rules, and concluded that Texas hadn’t done nearly enough to educate voters and poll workers about it.
– Polling Sites: The majority of calls to the hotline concerned changes to polling locations. Since the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Texas has closed 403 polling sites, according to a 2016 report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The Supreme Court’s decision also means Texas can change polling locations up to 72 hours before polls open. The hotline received several calls from confused voters whose sites had been moved with little or no notice.
– Long Lines: Polling sites in several counties saw wait times of over an hour. On Election Day, voters at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black university whose students have for decades been the targets of disenfranchisement schemes, waited over three hours.
Intimidation: There were several reports of behavior that voters found intimidating. Among them were a man in Spring, Texas who held a sign reading “Faggots Vote Democrat” (he was arrested after stepping over the line beyond which campaigning is prohibited); police officers pacing up and down voting lines; and two San Antonio police officers stationed at a polling place.
The myriad problems appear to have affected some groups more than others. Seventy-two percent of voters who called the hotline were black or Latino, while just 24 percent were white, even though whites made up the majority of state voters.
This new evidence of voting problems comes as Texas continues to fight for its voter ID law. After the original strict law was blocked last year, lawmakers last month passed a new version. It keeps in place the court-ordered option for those without photo ID to show a non-photo ID and sign an affidavit. But it threatens those who falsely sign the affidavit with 2-year prison term — needlessly intimidating voters who may not understand the rules.
Because the original ID law was found to have intentionally discriminated against racial minorities, a federal judge is currently considering whether to put Texas back under the system of federal pre-clearance that the Supreme Court undid in 2013.
Photo: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (via Creative Commons)