News Politics

New Texas Voter Registration Cards Cause Confusion, Largely for Women Voters

Andrea Grimes

Texas' new voter identification law is causing confusion in at least one county, where female voters are wondering why names they never legally used are showing up on voter registration cards.

Voters in one Texas county are worried that newly issued state voter certification cards may cause confusion at the polls due to requirements in the state’s new voter identification law. Nearly 600,000 new voter registration certificates have been mailed out to voters in Austin and surrounding Travis County, and about a sixth of them include “former” names of registered voters—such as maiden names—as required by the new statute.

Many of those voters are concerned that the former names listed on their new orange voting cards may affect their ability to vote in the future. In fact, so many voters are concerned that Travis County has issued a press release headlined “Don’t Shoot the Messenger” in an effort to assuage voters’ fears. Says Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar Bruce Elfant in that release: “It appears that the intent was to provide additional information for the new photo ID requirement, but this unintended consequence has upset many voters.”

The voter ID law, which Texas’ Republican attorney general, Greg Abbott, swiftly enacted this summer as soon as the Supreme Court ruled that “states with a history of racially-discriminatory voting practices” don’t need federal approval for new voting changes, requires that registered voters in the state present a valid government-issued photo ID at their polling place. The law has been criticized for its potential to alienate low-income Texans, people of color, and women voters who may not have photo identification that exactly matches their voter registration cards.

County officials told Rewire that the overwhelming majority of new voter cards that include the confusing former names (93,282 out of 98,834 total in Travis County) are being issued to registered Texas voters who selected female as their gender.

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While the cards have caused alarm, election officials told Rewire that as long as polling officials know how to read the new voting cards, everything should go smoothly. That is, as long as poll workers know that the orange “former name” box is only there as a reference, while the name in the white box is the name that will be used on voting rolls for comparison to a photo ID, voters should have no problem casting their ballots.

“We’re glad that people are looking at voter registration certificates carefully,” said Travis County tax office spokesperson Tiffany Seward. “We want them to look at this information, and we want them to call us with questions. We’re happy to help people fix their names.”

But Austinite Ashli McKee, who alerted local activists to the voting card confusion late last week, tells Rewire in an email interview that she remains concerned about name-related issues popping up at the polls.

McKee’s worry: that when it comes time for her to vote, polling officials will expect her photo ID to include her maiden name, Cooper, even though the name on the orange side of her registration card, Ashli Jean Cooper McKee, was never McKee’s legal name at all. On the other side of McKee’s card, her legal last name, changed after she married her husband, matches her photo identification. Cooper is nowhere to be found, since it is not her legal name.

voterid

A provision of the new law, added via amendment by state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), was meant to address just this kind of confusion and gives poll workers the ability to decide whether a voter’s registered name is “substantially similar” to the one on their photo identification, rather than an exact match.

Voters who have these “substantially similar” names can sign affidavits certifying their own identities, but McKee says that also makes her nervous, and creates unnecessary confusion.

“I should not have to have the anxiety of whether or not that’s going to happen when I go to vote,” said McKee, noting that she’s fortunate that her job allows her to call election officials for answers and clarifications during business hours and that others may not have the time or the ability to get their concerns sorted out.

At Travis County, Seward told Rewire that voters who want to remove the former names from their voter registration cards can return their cards with a note about the requested change written on the back, or they can can do so online. However, the change form requires voters to leave any former names blank if they want them to disappear from their voter registration cards. That puts Texans like McKee in an awkward position: knowingly sign, under penalty of perjury, a form that says she has no former names—not even a maiden name—or carry a voter registration card that lists a name she never used, legally or otherwise.

“With all this additional confusion and the anxiety when heading to the polling place,” said McKee, “I know many people just won’t bother, or will try and give up when it takes time and energy. And that’s not just really sad, but seems to be the point of all this.”

Calls to a number of other high-population Texas county voting departments weren’t immediately returned. It is unclear at this point how many total Texas voters may want to change former names on their certification cards, though if population breakdowns are similar, it may number in the tens of thousands for highly populated areas.

The Dallas Morning News has found that, according to records obtained from the attorney general’s office, the new voter ID law would have prevented a total of four cases of voter fraud over the course of the last nine years.

News Law and Policy

Voting Rights Advocates Notch Another Win, This Time in Texas

Imani Gandy

This makes two voting rights victories in as many days for voting rights advocates. A federal judge on Tuesday in Wisconsin ruled that voters who unable to comply with the state's photo ID requirement would be allowed to vote in the November's election.

The ultra-conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a surprising victory for voting rights advocates, ruled that Texas’s voter ID law disproportionately burdened Black and Hispanic voters in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965.

The decision means Texas can’t enforce the law in November’s presidential election.

Wednesday’s ruling was the latest in a convoluted legal challenge to the Texas law, which conservative lawmakers passed in 2011 and is among the most stringent voter ID laws in the nation. Voting rights advocates challenged the measure almost immediately, and the law remained blocked until the Roberts Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder revived it.

The Court in Shelby struck down a key provision of the VRA, Section 4, which is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia under Section 5 of the VRA before making any changes to their election laws. States with a history of racially discriminatory voting requirements like Texas were covered by the Section 4 pre-clearance requirement before the Shelby decision.

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Within hours of the Court’s ruling in Shelby, Texas officials announced that they would begin enforcing SB 14, the restrictive voter ID law.

In response, a group of Texas voters sued Texas under a different portion of the civil rights law, arguing SB 14 violates Section 2 of the VRA, which forbids voting procedures that discriminate on the basis of race. Unlike Section 5 of the VRA, which requires state officials prove a voting rights law has no discriminatory intent or effect, under Section 2, the burden of proving racial discriminatory intent or effect is placed on voters to prove the restriction discriminated against their voting rights.

Both the district court and a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit agreed and found that SB 14 had a discriminatory affect in violation of Section 2 of the VRA. Texas then requested that the Fifth Circuit rehear the case en banc, with the full slate of judges on the Fifth Circuit.

The full Fifth Circuit issued that decision Wednesday, handing Texas conservatives a decisive loss.

“The record shows that drafters and proponents of SB 14 were aware of the likely disproportionate effect of the law on minorities, and that they nonetheless passed the bill without adopting a number of proposed ameliorative measures that might have lessened this impact,” Judge Catharina Haynes wrote for the majority.

Texas claimed that it had modeled its law after Indiana’s law, which was upheld in another challenge, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. The Fifth Circuit, however, rejected Texas’s argument, finding obvious differences between the two laws that affected its decision that Texas’s law had a discriminatory impact on people of color.

“While cloaking themselves in the mantle of following Indiana’s voter ID law, which had been upheld against a (different) challenge in Crawford, the proponents of SB 14 took out all the ameliorative provisions of the Indiana law,” Haynes wrote.

One such ameliorative provision was an indigency exception, which the GOP-dominated Texas house stripped from the law. That exception would have freed indigent people from any obligation of paying fees associated with obtaining a qualified photo ID.

Although the Fifth Circuit found that the law violates the Voting Rights Act, the Fifth Circuit did not fashion a remedy for this violation and instead, remanded the case back to the lower court, instructing it that the “remedy must be tailored to rectify only the discriminatory effect on those voters who do not have SB 14 ID or are unable to reasonably obtain such identification.”

In addition, the appeals court reversed the lower court ruling that Texas had intended to discriminate against racial minorities. The court found evidence to support such a claim, but ultimately found that the district court’s overall findings were insufficient, and sent the case back to the district court to reconsider the evidence.

Nevertheless, voting rights advocates hailed the decision as a victory.

“We have repeatedly proven—using hard facts—that the Texas voter ID law discriminates against minority voters,” Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center and an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement, according to the Texas Tribune. “The 5th Circuit’s full panel of judges now agrees, joining every other federal court that has reviewed this law. We are extremely pleased with this outcome.”

Texas Republicans, including former governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry, rushed the law through the GOP-majority legislature in 2011, arguing that it was necessary to prevent voter fraud, even though voter fraud has been found to be almost nonexistent in other Republican-led investigations.

Politifact found in March of this year that since 2002, there had been 85 election fraud prosecutions, and not all of them resulted in convictions. To put that in perspective, from 2000 to 2014, some 72 million ballots were cast in Texas, not counting municipal and local elections.

Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, argued in 2015 that most of the Texas prosecutions would not have been prevented by the voter ID law, since the prosecutions were not for in-person voter fraud, but rather for marking someone else’s absentee ballots without their consent, fake registrations, or voting while ineligible.

“There are vanishingly few instances of voter fraud—incidents flat-out, not just prosecutions—that could be stopped by applying a rule requiring ID at the polls,” Levitt said, according to Politifact.

Opponents of SB 14 cited the near absence of proven in-person voter fraud, arguing that the law was intended to dilute the voting strength of the state’s increasing population of people of color, many of whom do not have photo identification and who would find it difficult to obtain it, as the opinion noted.

Laws requiring photo identification disparately impact people of color, students, and low-income voters, all groups who tend to vote for Democrats rather than Republicans.

Nevertheless, Texas conservatives continue to insist that the law was appropriately tailored to address voter fraud. “Voter fraud is real, and it undermines the integrity of the process,” said Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in a statement on Wednesday, according to the Texas Tribune.

Texas may appeal to the Supreme Court and ask the high court to intervene, although given that the Roberts Court remains short one judge, a 4-4 split is possible, which would leave in place the Fifth Circuit’s ruling.

This makes two voting rights victories in as many days for voting rights advocates. A federal judge on Tuesday in Wisconsin ruled that voters who unable to comply with the state’s photo ID requirement would nevertheless be allowed to vote in the upcoming election in November.

Analysis Law and Policy

After a Year, What Has the Smear Campaign Against Planned Parenthood Accomplished?

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

One year after David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress released the first of a series of videos targeting Planned Parenthood, there is still no evidence of wrongdoing by the reproductive health-care provider.

See more of our coverage on the anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress here.

One year ago, David Daleiden released the first in a series of videos that he claimed proved Planned Parenthood employees were unlawfully profiting from fetal tissue donation and violating the federal “partial-birth abortion” ban. With the backing and counsel of Operation Rescue President Troy Newman and the help of a woman named Sandra Merritt, among others, Daleiden had created a front group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP).

He then disguised CMP as a legitimate biomedical research organization—despite overwhelming evidence, including CMP’s own corporate documents, to the contrary—and used it to gain access to abortion clinics and private meetings. The organization released 11 videos by the end of 2015; in a year’s time, Daleiden and CMP had released a total of 14 videos. All have been debunked as deceptively edited and misleading.

So what have those videos truly accomplished? Here’s a summary of the fallout, one year later.

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Lawmakers Mounted Attacks on Planned Parenthood

In response to CMP’s videos, more than a dozen conservative governors launched investigations into or tried to defund Planned Parenthood affiliates in their states. States like Arkansas, Kansas, and Utah had their attempts to defund the reproductive health-care centers blocked by federal court order. The Obama administration also warned states that continuing to try and strip Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood centers violated federal law, though that did not stop such efforts throughout the country.

Additionally, congressional Republicans began their own investigations and defunding efforts, holding at least five separate hearings and as many defunding votes. Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) President Cecile Richards provided hours of congressional testimony on the lawful fetal tissue donation option available to some Planned Parenthood patients. Other affiliates do not offer such donation programs at all.

Not a single investigation at either the state or federal level has produced evidence of any wrongdoing. Still, many continue today. To date, Congress alone has spent almost $790,000 on the matter.

Violence Against Clinics Escalated

Just weeks after CMP released its first video, there was an act of arson at a Planned Parenthood health center in Aurora, Illinois. The following month, and after the release of three more smear videos, a car fire broke out behind a locked gate at Planned Parenthood in New Orleans. Abortion clinic staff and doctors around the country reported a significant uptick in threats of violence as Daleiden and CMP released the videos in a slow drip.

That violence spiked in November 2015, when Robert Lewis Dear Jr. was arrested for opening fire at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, a siege that left three dead. Dear told investigating officers his violence was “for the babies” because Planned Parenthood was “selling baby parts.” A Colorado court has so far deemed Dear incompetent to stand trial. Dear’s siege was not the last incident of clinic violence apparently inspired by Daleiden and CMP, but it has, to date, been the most lethal.

Dear’s next competency hearing is currently scheduled for Aug. 11.

A Lot of Lawsuits Got Filed

The tissue procurement company StemExpress and the National Abortion Federation (NAF) filed suits in July of last year. In January 2016, Planned Parenthood did the same, alleging that Daleiden and CMP had engaged in conspiracy and racketeering, among other things.

StemExpress Sued Daleiden and CMP

StemExpress, one company to whom Planned Parenthood was supposedly selling tissue, sued CMP, Daleiden, and Merritt in California state court. StemExpress asked the court for an injunction blocking CMP from releasing any more videos that were surreptitiously recorded at meetings the pair of anti-choice activists had with StemExpress staff. The complaint also included allegations of conspiracy, invasion of privacy, and conversion of property (based upon Daleiden’s taking confidential information from a former StemExpress employee, including accessing her StemExpress email account after she was no longer employed at the company).

Although it issued a temporary restraining order (TRO), the court ultimately declined to convert that into an injunction, citing First Amendment concerns that to do so would constitute prior restraint, or pre-publication censorship, on Daleiden and Merritt’s right to free speech. In other words, Daleiden and Merritt are free—at least under this court order—to continue releasing videos involving StemExpress employees while the suit proceeds.

The case is set for trial in January 2017.

National Abortion Federation Sued Daleiden and CMP

About the same time that CMP and Daleiden were battling StemExpress in court, NAF filed suit in federal court in San Francisco, alleging civil conspiracy, racketeering, fraud, and breach of contract, among other claims. Like StemExpress, NAF sought a temporary restraining order blocking any further release of the attack videos. Judge William Orrick issued the TRO and later, after a protracted discovery battle, converted it into a preliminary injunction. Thus, CMP is prohibited from publishing any videos of footage taken at NAF’s annual meetings, which Daleiden and Merritt infiltrated in 2014 and 2015, while the suit proceeds.

As they had in their battle with StemExpress, Daleiden and CMP claimed that prohibiting publication of the videos constituted a prior restraint on speech, in violation of the First Amendment. But unlike StemExpress, which was trying to prohibit the publication of videos detailing conversations that took place in a restaurant, NAF sought to prohibit publication of video footage secretly recorded at meetings. Judge Orrick found that Daleiden had waived his First Amendment rights when he signed a confidentiality agreement at those meetings promising not to disclose any information he gained at them.

And, as in other court battles, one of the preeminent claims Daleiden and his cohorts raised to excuse his tactics—creating a fake tissue procurement company, assuming false identities through the use of false identification cards, getting people drunk in order to elicit damaging statements from them, and signing confidentiality agreements with no intention of following them—was that Daleiden is an investigative journalist.

Judge Orrick condemned this argument in strong terms: “Defendants engaged in repeated instances of fraud, including the manufacture of fake documents, the creation and registration with the state of California of a fake company, and repeated false statements to a numerous NAF representatives and NAF members in order to infiltrate NAF and implement their Human Capital Project. The products of that Project—achieved in large part from the infiltration—thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions (at least with respect to the NAF materials) of criminal misconduct. Defendants did not—as Daleiden repeatedly asserts—use widely accepted investigatory journalism techniques.”

In an amicus brief in the same lawsuit, submitted to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in early June, 18 of the country’s leading journalists and journalism scholars noted that “by calling himself an ‘investigative journalist,’ Appellant David Daleiden does not make it so.”

“We believe that accepting Mr. Daleiden’s claim that he merely engaged in ‘standard undercover journalism techniques’ would be both wrong and damaging to the vital role that journalism serves in our society,” the journalists and scholars continued.

Daleiden and CMP have appealed the preliminary injunction order to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case currently sits pending a decision.

Planned Parenthood Sued Daleiden and CMP

Six months after StemExpress and NAF filed their lawsuits against the orchestrators of the smear campaign, PPFA filed a whopping one of its own in California federal court, alleging civil conspiracy, racketeering, fraud, trespass, and breach of contract, among other civil and criminal allegations. PPFA was joined by several affiliates—including Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, where Dear was arrested for opening fire in November.

Daleiden has asked the court to dismiss Planned Parenthood’s claims. The court has so far declined to do so.

David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt Were Indicted on Felony Charges

Daleiden and his allies have not fared well in the civil lawsuits filed against them. But both Daleiden and Merritt also have pending criminal cases. After an investigation into Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast sparked by Daleiden’s claims, a Texas grand jury declined to indict the health-care organization for any criminal conduct. The grand jury instead returned an indictment against Daleiden and Merritt on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record, related to their use of false California driver’s licenses in order to gain entrance into the clinic. Daleiden was additionally charged with a misdemeanor count related to the purchase or sale of human organs.

In June, Harris County Criminal Court at Law Judge Diane Bull dismissed the misdemeanor charge. Daleiden and Merritt’s attorneys, who called the dismissal a victory for the anti-choice movement, are still trying to get the felony charged dismissed.