As early voting continues in Texas, critics of the state's voter ID law are publicizing incidents in which voters have been prevented from easily casting their ballots, raising fears about what could happen when most Texans go to the polls on Nov. 4.
The Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy organization that focuses on democracy and justice issues, published a series of firsthand accounts on Thursday showing the pitfalls of a law that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called “purposefully discriminatory" earlier this month.
This year’s election is the first federal vote since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which would have required Texas to obtain federal permission to change its voting laws.
Opponents of the Texas voter ID law say it will effectively disenfranchise 600,000 people or more — a figure disputed by the state — and that Hispanics and African-Americans will disproportionately affected.
“It’s not only a huge problem for a lot of people, it’s a huge problem that has a racial dynamic to it as well,” Jennifer Clark, counsel of the Brennan Center's democracy program, told Al Jazeera.
One incident detailed was that of Pamela Briathwaite-Lawson, described by the Brennan Center as a “longtime voter” who brought her unexpired U.S. passport to the polls and was initially told by workers that her passport was not valid, and that she would need to have a Texas driver’s license — which she did not have — in order to vote.
It was only after pushback and insistence that they should accept her passport that she was allowed to vote. Adding to the confusion was the fact that her passport was in her maiden name, while she was registered to vote in her married name, the Brennan Center said.
Clark said that she doesn't believe it's a case of ill intent by poll workers — but that the lack of information surrounding the entire situation was a "huge problem" among the general public and local administrators.
“There is a lot misunderstanding out there … people just don’t know what they need to do,” she said, adding that the district court found that "Texas had done a completely unacceptable job of informing the public of the requirements of the law."
Another instance highlighted by the Brennan Center earlier this week was that of Krystal Watson, a student at the historically black Wiley College. Watson, who is originally from Louisiana and has previously been able to vote in Texas, was not allowed to cast a ballot because she had a Louisiana driver’s license and her college ID did not quality as an acceptable form of identification.
The Texas law requires voters to show one of seven forms of photo identification, including a driver's license, passport or Texas concealed handgun license, before they are allowed to cast their ballots. On Oct. 9, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos overturned the law, saying it effectively discriminated against African-Americans and Hispanics and infringed on their right to vote.
But days later, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans put the decision on hold, warning judges not to change voter rules so close to Election Day. The Justice Department and civil rights groups also made an emergency application to the Supreme Court to stop the photo ID requirement, but the nation's top court denied the request.
At the time of the decision, the Texas Attorney General's office said that it was pleased with the Supreme Court's decision and that Texas would "continue to defend voter ID laws."
Republican lawmakers in Texas and elsewhere say the ID laws are necessary to reduce voter fraud. Democrats say that such fraud cases are rare, and that voter ID measures are an attempt to keep eligible voters — many of them minorities generally supportive of Democrats — from being able to vote.
Whether the voter ID laws could have a direct impact on the outcome of elections remains to be seen. And although polls show Republican candidate and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott well ahead of Democratic candidate and state Sen. Wendy Davis in the race for governor, Clark said other races could be affected by the laws.
“I certainly think it will have an impact, and I think there are plenty of local races that are close and that are decided by not that many votes," she said. “Regardless of whether it impacts a race or not, these are a bunch of people who wanted to exercise the right to vote, and they’re not being allowed to. So that’s really the biggest issue."