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At 9 a.m. Thursday, Donald Trump posted a tweet: “A lot of call-ins about vote flipping at the voting booths in Texas. People are not happy. BIG lines. What is going on?”
It's classic Trump: baseless anecdotes, hints at conspiracy, unnecessary capitalization. Of course, there is no evidence backing the GOP candidate’s claims—state elections officials say the machines are working perfectly. Trump, however, is undoubtedly right about one thing. Texas has a serious voting problem—but it has nothing to do with “flipped polls.”
On Monday, Texas saw a record-breaking early voter turnout across the state. Some dedicated voters waited nearly two hours to cast their ballot. By the end of the day, however, civil rights groups were already getting calls from voters confused or misled by mixed messages coming from polling locations on what form of identification they had to provide to get a ballot.
The most recent iteration of Texas’ tangled voter ID law, a temporary court-ordered fix, lets anyone without a state-issued photo ID vote if they sign a statement confirming they didn’t have a photo ID, and bring an approved document (utility bill, bank statement, etc.) that proves their existence.
At the polls this week, however, some voters said they were thrown by posters hung inside the voting area describing dated, defunct ID rules, and others met election officials who still demanded a photo ID. This confusion, voting rights advocates say, could easily intimidate eligible voters from following through.
“Not everybody is an aggressive voter. Some people are shy and laid back, and if you’re told you have to have an ID, it might cause them to get out of line and go home,” said Jose Garza, a lawyer who represented the Mexican American Legislative Caucus in a lawsuit against the state's proposed voter ID rules, in an interview with the Texas Tribune.
This isn’t necessarily the fault of the local elections offices—they’ve been handed little to work with from state lawmakers who begrudgingly accepted to follow orders from a federal district court judge who ruled that the state's original voter ID rules intentionally discriminate against black and brown voters.
In August, a federal judge demanded the state spend $2.5 million on educating the public on acceptable voter ID before the November 8 election. Top Texas officials, however, didn't like the new court-mandated voter ID rules, so they distributed highly misleading information instead. On top of this, some county clerks have threatened to criminally investigate voters who don’t present a photo ID at the polls, and Attorney General Ken Paxton has been eager to remind voters that they will be prosecuted if they lied about not having an ID. Texas appears to have replaced voter education with intimidation.
Conservative Lawmakers who passed the voter ID rules insist they were intended to prevent “rampant” voter fraud—a claim that the U.S. Department of Justice has repeatedly debunked. But it’s hard not to see a political motive. The majority of Texans living without photo ID are low-income, elderly, and non-white—demographics that have traditionally voted Democratic.
Even after being twice rejected by the most conservative federal appeals court in the country for having an “impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African Americans," Texas officials still want to impose the voter ID rules. Attorney General Paxton filed an appeal to the Supreme Court in September.
In the meantime, there’s a general election–and an election system that’s already being blamed for misinforming voters.