Monday marked the beginning of early voting in the first election since Texas' new voter ID law went into effect. We're now less than a week into early voting, but we've already begun to see the law's effects as it begins to disenfranchise voters.
On Tuesday, 117th District Court Judge Sandra Watts was almost stopped from voting in Corpus Christi thanks to the voter ID law. This was because “her driver's license lists her maiden name as her middle name, while her voter registration form has her real middle name.” Since the names didn't match up, she was tagged for possible voter fraud–the first time she'd ever had an issue voting in 49 years.
While the voter ID law's disproportionate impact on low-income voters, people of color, students, and the elderly has been well documented, Judge Watts' experience shines light on another group who will be severely affected by the law: women. In fact, up to one third of women could have trouble voting due to the new voter ID law.
Read about why so many women may have trouble voting this year after the jump.Married (or formerly married) women who may have changed their names are the largest group who will be affected by the law. This includes women who use their maiden names or hyphenated names.
Transgender people are also going to be disproportionately affected by the new law, as they're even less likely than married women to have an ID with their current legal name. A UCLA report found that 41% of transgender individuals don't have an updated driver's license, and 74% don't have an updated passport. 27% of transgender men and women have no identity documents at all that reflect their updated gender status.
When married women adopt a spouse's name, changing all of their documents is already long and laborious process. The same is true for transgender voters looking to update their identity documents. The voter ID law makes that process even more onerous.
Women who do not currently have a valid form of ID and are trying to obtain an Election Identification Certificate may be required to produce a birth certificate or marriage license to do so. The process to obtain these new documents is costly and time-consuming. If a person can afford to travel to Austin, it will cost them $22 to get a new copy of a birth or marriage certificate printed, plus travel time and expenses. If they'd rather get it by mail, that will cost them an extra $20 plus 6 to 8 weeks of waiting time. The women seeking out Election Identification Certificates are more likely to be low-income, and this is yet another way the voter ID law makes it more difficult for them to vote.
Women who already have a valid form of ID still need to make sure the name on their ID matches the name on their voter registration record. What's most important for the purposes of voting is that the ID and voter registration match, or are substantially similar, even if both of them are wrong about the voter's legal name (e.g., if a voter has not had a chance to update either document yet). Even if there's a discrepancy in the last names between documents, the voter should still be allowed to vote a regular ballot (after initialing a box on the sign in form) if the other parts of their ID and voter registration (first name, date of birth, etc.) sufficiently match, though they'll have to initial a form when they sign in. Judge Watts in Corpus Christi was able to vote after she filled out additional paperwork at the polling place.
All voters should be prepared by checking their ID and voter registration to see if there could be potential issues, and allow a little extra time at the polls to fill out paperwork if necessary. If for some reason a name is not considered substantially similar and a voter is required to vote a provisional ballot, they should do so and then contact the Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE so the problem can be documented and potentially fixed. And most importantly, everyone should go out and vote.
Texas Republican politicians like to claim that these things are only minor barriers to voting. But even if it were, it's still a problem because these barriers don't apply to everyone. Most married men won't have to face this problem at all, as they theyrarely change their names after marriage. The new voter ID law affects Texans unequally, creating extra burdens for female voters. It makes it more difficult for women to vote than men, which is discrimination–and it's wrong.
As women have been disenfranchised by Greg Abbott's voter ID law, he's spent this week releasing a new video to try to woo women voters in his campaign for governor. Texas Democratic Party spokeswoman Tanene Allison released this statement in response to Abbott's blatant pandering:
“Greg Abbott can't have it both ways. He can't claim to defend the Constitution and stand for liberty when Texas women are denied the right to vote because of Abbott-backed voter suppression legislation. His newest attempt to woo women voters is void of substance, big on fluff. You can bet the stories of women being disenfranchised by Abbott didn't make his video.”
If you're unsure of what you'll need to vote, check out this explanation of the new rules, courtesy of Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. While Attorney General Eric Holder has promised to fight the law, it may still be in effect during next year's elections. Make sure you've got the ID you need, so that come November 2014, we can all vote to keep Greg Abbott out of the Governor's Mansion.
Updated 10/25/13 to reflect that birth and/or marriage certificates are only necessary for women obtaining Election Identification Certificates. Women who already have a valid form of ID only need to make sure the name on their photo ID matches their voter registration information.