This Election Day, a number of states are implementing strict new voter ID laws and registration policies in a high-turnout election for the first time. These measures have been found to have the potential to disenfranchise thousands of voters -- typically people of color, young voters, and women -- who are unable to obtain select forms of ID or are caught in flawed voter purges, but right-wing media figures frequently argue that these laws do not suppress the vote.
The right-wing media have repeatedly claimed that these laws are not racially discriminatory, do not affect minority voter turnout, and maintain the integrity of the election system. Fox News has referred to recent court decisions striking down voter ID laws as illegal or unconstitutional “setbacks” and questioned the timing of the courts' intervention on behalf of the right to vote. Right-wing media have also railed against attempts to stop voter purges, despite the fact that reports have discovered “Hispanic, Democratic and independent-minded voters are the most likely to be targeted” in these methodologically unsound attempts to find ineligible voters.
Repeatedly discredited National Review Online contributor Hans von Spakovsky has been particularly vocal in his support of these unnecessary and redundant election measures, dismissing concerns of "chaos at the polls" even though hundreds of thousands of voters are at risk. On the November 2 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ, von Spakovsky again promoted strict voter ID laws and registration checks and claimed that “this idea” that voter ID laws can “suppress minority voters, we know is not true”:
But qualified voters are already being turned away from the polls or purged from the rolls in states that have enacted these new Republican-pushed measures, despite right-wing media's promises that such laws would have no negative effect.
Brennan Center for Justice: Texas' Voter ID Law Has Already Disenfranchised Voters. The Brennan Center for Justice is already compiling examples of voters in Texas who have been turned away from the polls. Jesus Garcia will likely not vote in the 2014 election because he “is not sure he will be able to afford [the] documents” needed to get ID, a price for voting that has already been found to be an unconstitutional “poll tax”:
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. Mr. Garcia thinks it is unfair that he cannot vote with the documents he has. He was born here and he has an ID with his picture on it; it's just expired. He has a voter registration card, and voted in past elections. [Brennan Center for Justice, 10/28/14]
The Guardian: “For The First Time In His Adult Life, Eric Kennie Will Not Be Allowed To Participate.” Despite the fact that Eric Kennie is a native Texan and has voted in previous elections, The Guardian reports that he will not be voting this year. Kennie does not have the right type of ID to vote, and despite repeated trips to the department of public safety (DPS), he has been unable to obtain it:
Eric Kennie is a Texan. He is as Texan as the yucca plants growing outside his house. So Texan that he has never, in his 45 years, travelled outside the state. In fact, he has never even left his native city of Austin. “No sir, not one day. I was born and raised here, only place I know is Austin.”
You might think that more than qualifies Kennie as a citizen of the Lone Star state, entitling him to its most basic rights such as the ability to vote. Not so, according to the state of Texas and its Republican political leadership. On 4 November, when America goes to the polls in the midterm elections, for the first time in his adult life Eric Kennie will not be allowed to participate.
Ever since he turned 18 he has made a point of voting in general elections, having been brought up by his African American parents to think that it is important, part of what he calls “doing the right thing”. He remembers the excitement of voting for Barack Obama in 2008 to help elect the country's first black president, his grandmother crying tears of joy on election night. “My grandfather and uncle, they used to tell me all the time there will be a black president. I never believed it, never in a million years.”
He voted again for Obama in 2012, and turned out for the 2010 midterm elections in between. But this year is different. Kennie is one of an estimated 600,000 Texans who, though registered to vote, will be unable to do so because they cannot meet photo-identification requirements set out in the state's new voter-ID law, SB14.
Each trip to the DPS office involved taking three buses, a journey that can stretch to a couple of hours. Then he had to stand in line, waiting for up to a further three hours to be seen, before finally making another two-hour schlep home.
In one of his trips to the DPS last year they told him he needed to get hold of a copy of his birth certificate as the only remaining way he could meet the requirements and get his [election identification certificate]. That meant going on yet another three-bus trek to the official records office in a different part of town.
The cost of acquiring a birth certificate in Texas is $23, which may not sound much but it is to Kennie. He is poor, like many of the up to 600,000 Texans caught in the current voter ID trap. [The Guardian, 10/27/14]
ThinkProgress: 93-Year-Old Veteran Turned Away From Polling Place In Houston. ThinkProgress reported that an election judge in Texas had to turn away a 93-year-old veteran because he had an expired driver's license and had never gotten a veteran's ID card. According to the judge, although the veteran had “all sorts” of other forms of photo ID, none is considered valid under Texas' new law:
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. [ThinkProgress, 10/27/14]
MSNBC.com: Voters In Texas “Faced Massive Hurdles In Casting A Vote” Because Of New ID Law. MSNBC's Zachary Roth spoke with a group of Texans who had been turned away or faced other hurdles in their attempts to legally vote. Some of the voters who tried to navigate the “astonishing bureaucratic thicket,” as Roth called it, eventually gave up and will not vote in this year's election:
Lindsay Gonzales, 36, has an out-of-state driver's license, which isn't accepted under the ID law. Despite trying for months, she has been unable to navigate an astonishing bureaucratic thicket in time to get a Texas license she can use to vote. “I'm still a little bit in shock,” said Gonzales, who is white, well-educated, and politically engaged. “Because of all those barriers, the side effect is that I don't get to participate in the democratic process. That's something I care deeply about and I'm not going to be able to do it.”
As Texas prepares for its first high-turnout election with the voter ID law in place, the state has scrambled to reassure residents that it's being proactive in getting IDs to those who need them, and that few voters will ultimately be disenfranchised. But those claims are belied by continued reports of legitimate Texans who, despite often Herculean efforts, still lack the identification required to exercise their most fundamental democratic right.
The U.S. Justice Department announced Monday that it will send election monitors to the Houston area, as well as Waller County, Texas and 26 other counties across the country, to protect access to the ballot.
Next to Gonzales sat Adam Alkhafaji, a student at the University of Houston, who turned 18 in September and was excited to vote for the first time. But to prove his residency and get a Texas ID, he needed a residential housing agreement, a birth certificate, and a Social Security card, none of which he had. Overwhelmed with school, he ran out of time. “It's almost like a milestone in your life: You take your first steps, then you get your driver's license, and then you exercise your right to vote,” Alkhafaji said. “I'm more than disappointed.” [MSNBC.com, 11/3/14]
Advancement Project: Voters “Would Have Been Disenfranchised If Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Had Gone Into Effect.” In October, the Supreme Court blocked Wisconsin's restrictive voter ID law from going into effect for the 2014 election. As a result, a number of voters who would have otherwise been turned away will be able to vote:
Alice Weddle, 59, was born at home in Mississippi, delivered by a midwife, and was never issued a birth certificate. Ms. Weddle, who moved to Wisconsin with her family when she was three years old, never had a driver's license and is a regular voter. Without a birth certificate, however, she has not been able to obtain the state-issued ID now required to cast a ballot.
Rickey Davis, an Army veteran who served as a sergeant in the 82nd Airborne and was honorably discharged in 1978, also testified about his difficulty to obtain a state-issued photo ID. When he twice attempted to get a Wisconsin ID a few years ago, having moved from Illinois in 2006, he presented several forms of documentation, including his veterans ID card, military discharge papers, and a Social Security card. Yet Mr. Davis was turned away because he did not have a copy of his birth certificate.
Rose Thompson, a longtime voter who was born at home in Mississippi, does not have a birth certificate and cannot obtain a state-issued voter ID. Although she attempted multiple times to receive a copy of her birth certificate from Mississippi -- even sending money to state offices in her birthplace of Jackson -- she has been unsuccessful. The 79-year old would have been unable to vote under Wisconsin's voter ID law.
Melvin Robertson, 84, was born in Milwaukee, but has no birth certificate and no way of obtaining one. He was never issued a birth certificate and never had a state issued driver's license or ID card. Mr. Robertson, a regular voter who voted as often has he could, learned about Wisconsin's voter ID law through Anita Johnson of Citizen Action. She was conducting voter education outreach at Robertson's residence in Hadley Terrace. Johnson took Robertson to the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Vital records to help him obtain an ID, but they were unsuccessful because he did not have the necessary underlying documents. Robertson would have been disenfranchised if Wisconsin's voter ID law had gone into effect. [The Advancement Project]
ThinkProgress: “In Last-Minute Decision,” Alabama Attorney General Decides Public Housing ID Not Acceptable Under Voter ID Law. As reported by ThinkProgress, four days before the election, Alabama officials ruled that public housing ID could not be used as voter identification. On Election Day, this interpretation of the state's voter ID law was also apparently used to deny another voter who had identification from the shelter he was staying in:
At least three Alabama citizens apparently have been denied their right to vote thanks to the state's voter ID law. Deuel Ross, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who is working on voter protection efforts in the state, told ThinkProgress he had encounted three voters in the past day who have been rejected due to lack of “valid identification.”
“One was a 92 year old woman with public housing ID,” he said, who was rejected thanks to a last-minute decision by the state that such identification was not valid proof of identity, and “another gentleman had ID from a shelter, but nothing they considered valid.” [ThinkProgress, 11/4/14]
Wichita Eagle: “More Than 21,000 Kansans' Voter Registrations In Suspense Because Of Proof Of Citizenship.” As The Wichita Eagle reported, a new Kansas law requires voters to provide additional verification of citizenship when they register to vote. This law has put over 21,000 voter registrations on hold because those voters haven't yet proven their citizenship, and some voters have been turned away or forced to cast provisional ballots that ended up not counting:
De Anna Allen has served on a jury. She has served her country.
So she was surprised when she couldn't vote.
Allen went to cast a ballot in the primary election in August and poll workers couldn't find her name among the list of registered voters. She did cast a ballot, but it was provisional and did not count.
Allen was among 27,131 people statewide who had signed up to vote but whose registrations were considered in suspense, or limbo, as of Oct. 14, the last day to register before the midterm election. Most of them -- 23,026, including Allen -- had not yet provided proof of citizenship. By Friday, the state had whittled that number to 21,473.
Sedgwick County had the second-highest number of people on the suspended list behind Johnson County. Johnson County had 4,781 on the list, while Sedgwick County had 4,735.
The numbers of Kansans with incomplete registration because of citizenship are highest among the young and unaffiliated, an Eagle analysis found. Statewide, 12,327 people who identified as unaffiliated had their registrations suspended because of lack of proof of citizenship, compared with 4,787 who identified as Republicans, 3,948 who identified as Democrats and 361 who identified as Libertarians. Not all who applied identified a party, records requested by The Wichita Eagle from the state show.
The number of men and women with suspended registrations was split pretty evenly.
“It just caught me off guard that I was not registered,” Allen said. “I served for a week on a jury trial, which basically told me I was a registered voter. I'm a disabled veteran, so it's particularly frustrating. Why should I have to prove my citizenship when I served in the military?” [The Wichita Eagle, 10/31/14]
Al Jazeera America: Discredited System To Find Illegal Double Voters Across The Country Is “Disturbingly Inadequate.” Utilizing the Crosscheck system, “election officials in 27 states, most of them Republican,” are attempting to purge voters from state rolls who are also registered in other states. However, the data sets and criteria used for identifying double voters “commonly” produces false positives, and “minorities are more likely to be tagged as double voters”:
There are 6,951,484 names on the target list of the 28 states in the Crosscheck group; each of them represents a suspected double voter whose registration has now become subject to challenge and removal. According to a 2013 presentation by Kobach to the National Association of State Election Directors, the program is a highly sophisticated voter-fraud-detection system. The sample matches he showed his audience included the following criteria: first, last and middle name or initial; date of birth; suffixes; and Social Security number, or at least its last four digits.
That was the sales pitch. But the actual lists show that not only are middle names commonly mismatched and suffix discrepancies ignored, even birthdates don't seem to have been taken into account. Moreover, Crosscheck deliberately ignores Social Security mismatches, in the few instances when the numbers are even collected. The Crosscheck instructions for county election officers state, “Social Security numbers are included for verification; the numbers might or might not match.”
In practice, all it takes to become a suspect is sharing a first and last name with a voter in another state.
Mark Swedlund is a specialist in list analytics whose clients have included eBay, AT&T and Nike. At Al Jazeera America's request, he conducted a statistical review of Crosscheck's three lists of suspected double voters. According to Swedlund, “It appears that Crosscheck does have inherent bias to over-selecting for potential scrutiny and purging voters from Asian, Hispanic and Black ethnic groups. In fact, the matching methodology, which presumes people in other states with the same name are matches, will always over-select from groups of people with common surnames.” Swedlund sums up the method for finding two-state voters -- simply matching first and last name -- as “ludicrous, just crazy.”
Helen Butler is the executive director of Georgia's Coalition for the Peoples' Agenda, which conducts voter drives in minority communities. Any purge list that relies on name matches will contain a built-in racial bias against African-Americans, she says, because “We [African-Americans] took our slave owners' names.” The search website PeopleSmart notes that 86,020 people in the United States have the name John Jackson. And according to the 2000 U.S. Census, which is the most recent data set, 53 percent of Jacksons are African-American. [Al Jazeera America, 10/29/14]
The New Republic: 40,000 Voter Registrations Filed By Voting Rights Advocates “Probably Lost Forever.” The Georgia chapter of the NAACP and the New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan voter education group that has sought to expand the electorate in the state, have been unable to get an accounting from the Republican secretary of state of almost 40,000 missing new voter registrations. As The New Republic reported, because the Senate race is so close, "[t]he loss of tens of thousands of voter registrations is a big deal":
I spoke with Georgia NAACP President Francys Johnson to figure out how 40,000 registrations could simply go “missing.” In Georgia, when a person registers to vote, his application is matched against two data systems to verify his identity. The first is the Georgia driver's license system, which keeps records for every person in Georgia with a license. The second is a data system with the social security numbers of every Georgia resident. If neither of these systems yields a match, the registration application goes on a pending list, which is supposed to prompt a notification to the would-be voter that their application needs additional identification. Unfortunately, according to Johnson, many of these letters were never sent, and because a person on the pending list is removed from the system after 30 days, the registration of such an individual goes “missing.”
Whether or not this system is a logical means of verifying identity, it undeniably disadvantages certain kinds of people. Matching a registration against driver's license data won't work for any would-be voters who can't afford to get a license and renew it, let alone buy a car; live in an urban area with public transportation and don't need a license; are elderly and have lost driving privileges; are young and haven't yet taken some of the traditional first steps of adulthood, like getting a full-time job, that may require having a car. (Federal law does not require a driver's license to vote.) Basically, such a requirement puts many socio-economically disadvantaged (and likely ethnically diverse), urban, younger, and older people -- most of whom the Republican Party is not overwhelmingly popular with -- in a bad position.
The second data system check is even easier to fail simply because most voters aren't even aware of it. Federal law does not require the last four digits of a person's SSN to vote, and so this field is optional on voter registration forms. In fact, Johnson says that the last four digits of a person's social security number is the “least likely piece of information [you] get from a voter at a registration drive.” [The New Republic, 11/3/14]
And Provisional Ballots Are No Panacea -- Voters Of Color Are Disproportionately Pushed Into This Flawed Safety Net
Center For American Progress: Provisional Ballots Have A “Propensity To Not Be Counted.” According to a new report from the Center for American Progress, “the use of provisional ballots is more frequent in counties with higher percentages of minority voters.” This is a problem because provisional ballots are not always counted, meaning that the use of provisional ballots could be yet another way that people of color are disenfranchised from the political process:
Of the more than 2.7 million provisional ballots that were cast in 2012, more than 30 percent were not fully counted or rejected all together. Moreover, according to this first-of-its-kind analysis, in 16 states, the use of provisional ballots is more frequent in counties with higher percentages of minority voters.
Beyond their propensity to not be counted, provisional ballots may serve as a proxy for breakdowns in the election process because they are issued when there is some type of problem precluding a normal ballot from being cast. While voter error may be the reason for the issuance of some provisional ballots, cumbersome voter registration procedures, restrictive voting laws, lack of voter education, poorly maintained voter registration lists, and mismanagement by election officials all contribute to voters casting provisional instead of regular ballots. This report, however, does not attempt to identify the institutional root causes of why provisional ballots are issued. Instead, it is a first-of-its-kind analysis that critically evaluates the issuance of provisional ballots in counties across all 50 states during the 2012 election with specific attention to whether minority populations were more affected by the use of provisional ballots.
After controlling for population and examining county-level data in each state, we found that during the 2012 election, voters in counties with a higher percentage of minorities cast provisional ballots at higher rates than in counties with lower percentages of minorities in 16 states. Those 16 states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Utah.
Our findings raise serious questions about the health and integrity of the voting process in these states. Since nearly one-third of provisional votes are eventually rejected, the finding that minority voters may be more affected by the use of provisional ballots gives rise to concerns of whether minority voices are being properly heard in these 16 states. Although there are legitimate reasons for provisional ballots to be issued -- and some such ballots are properly rejected -- these statistically significant correlations between provisional ballots and minority populations are deeply troubling. [Center for American Progress, 10/29/14]