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Unsurprisingly, Texas Voters Confused About Voter ID Law

There is widespread confusion in Texas about the state’s voter ID law – and experts say that’s no surprise. Texas revised its rules to settle a court challenge on the eve of the election, leaving both voters and poll workers in the dark about what, exactly, was allowed in the ballot process.

Electionland has reviewed a number of complaints from Texas voters and it’s clear that at least some involve actions by election workers that were part of the settlement.

For example, more than half a dozen complaints we reviewed involved voters who had ID but declined to provide it after being explicitly asked to do so by a poll worker. The voters believed this was improper.

Alicia Pierce, a spokesperson for the Texas Secretary of State’s office, said “the law is that if you do possess one of the seven forms of photo ID – expired up to four years – it is true that you must present that form of ID,” she said, adding that poll workers are allowed to request to see IDs and to ask voters in line to have their IDs out when they get to the polling booth.

But, she said that the Secretary of State’s office has “repeatedly” told local precincts that “they must communicate that there are options” if a voter does not have an ID at all. If this is the case, voters can fill out a form indicating they do not have one and present alternate identification such as a bank statement.

David Becker, the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, said he believes “the Secretary of State’s office has done the best they can, given the shifting legal landscape, and it’s not crazy that there would be some poll workers and precincts where that confusion would result in problems.” He said he couldn’t think of anything more the Secretary of State’s office could have done to better inform voters or precincts of the law.

Many of the people who called in complaints seemed ideologically opposed to voter ID laws in general, and thus used their vote as a small protest against the idea of the law itself. Becker says such actions are not without precedent. “People don’t like the law and want to make a point about it,” he said. “Unfortunately, a presidential election, when poll workers are doing their best to do their job under stress, might not be the best time to do that.”

Should a poll worker in Texas actually flout the agreement and demand to see ID from all voters before allowing them to vote, there is very little the Secretary of State’s office can do. Pierce says the Secretary of State’s office does not have any enforcement or investigative powers as an agency, and “all we can do is remind” local precincts of the law. “I stress that these are reminders – this is not the first time they are hearing these things,” she said.

Electionland covered some of these issues during early voting. Partner news organizations The Houston Chronicle and The Texas Tribune both wrote about precincts where poll workers gave out incorrect information. While Electionland is aware of similar reports today, they seem to have waned from the surge that took place during early voting.

In cases such as this, Pierce encourages voters to call in complaints to her office so they are aware of them, but said immediate problems would be more swiftly dealt with at the local level. “We are a small agency. We rely on voters to be our eyes and ears on the ground,” she said.

About Electionland

ProPublica’s Electionland project covers problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections. Our coalition of newsrooms around the country are investigating issues related to voter registration, pandemic-related changes to voting, the shift to vote-by-mail, cybersecurity, voter education, misinformation, and more.

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