When it comes to elections, callers to the courthouse are normally referred to the elections office. However, as you well know, questions don’t always come via phone. Sometimes, our constituents catch us out and about, whether at lunch, attending a civic function, or on another job. Even if they do call, they may want their answers from you, their personal official.
In 2011, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 14 creating a new requirement for voters to show photo identification when voting in person. While pending review within the judicial system, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, which effectively ended all pending litigation. As a result, voters are now required to present an approved form of photo identification in order to vote in all Texas elections.
Texans had their first experience with the new voter identification law last year with the November 2013 constitutional amendment election. As Texans head to the polls in March for a primary election, we thought it prudent to provide a review of the new requirements. Feel free to share this article with anyone who asks.
Voter ID Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: When did the new photo identification law go into effect?
A: The Texas Legislature passed the voter identification law in 2011. However, the law did not take effect that year; the law went into effect in time for the 2013 elections.
Q: What kind of identification is required to qualify to vote in person under this photo identification program?
A: A voter is now required to show one of the following forms of photo identification at the polling location before the voter will be permitted to cast a vote.
Texas driver’s license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)
Texas Election Identification Certificate issued by DPS
Texas personal identification card issued by DPS
Texas concealed handgun license issued by DPS
United States military identification card containing the person’s photograph
United States citizenship certificate containing the person’s photograph
United States passport
Q: My ID is expired. Will it still work?
A: With the exception of the U.S. citizenship certificate, the identification must be current or have expired no more than 60 days before being presented for voter qualification at the polling place.
Q: But what if a voter does not have any of these forms of photo ID? Are there any exceptions?
A: If a voter does not have a permanent disability exemption (addressed below) indicated on his or her voter registration certificate AND the voter does not have any of the photo identifications (indicated at left) at the time of voting, the voter may cast a provisional ballot at the polls. However, in order to have the provisional ballot counted, the voter will be required to visit the voter registrar’s office within six calendar days of the date of the election to either present one of the approved forms of photo ID OR submit one of the temporary affidavits addressed at right (e.g., religious objection or natural disaster) in the presence of the county voter registrar while attesting to the fact that he or she does not have any of the required photo IDs.
A permanent exemption is available for voters with documented disabilities. Voters with a disability may apply with the county voter registrar for a permanent exemption. The application must contain written documentation from either the U.S. Social Security Administration evidencing the applicant’s disability, or from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs evidencing a disability rating of at least 50 percent. In addition, the applicant must state that he or she has no valid form of photo identification. Those who obtain a disability exemption will be allowed to vote by presenting a voter registration certificate reflecting the exemption.
Affidavits are available for voters who have a consistent religious objection to being photographed and for voters who do not have any photo identification as a result of certain natural disasters as declared by the president of the United States or the Texas governor within 45 days of the day the ballot was cast.
Q: If I have a government-issued ID that contains my photo and it is not on the list above, may I use it?
A: If you do not have one of the forms of photo IDs listed above and your voter registration certificate does not have a disability exemption noted, you will only be eligible to cast a provisional ballot.
Q: My name on my approved photo ID does not exactly match my name on my voter registration card. Can I still vote?
A: Election officials will review the ID and if a name is “substantially similar” to the name on their list of registered voters, you will still be able to vote, but you will also have to submit an affidavit stating that you are the same person on the list of registered voters.
Q: What does “substantially similar” mean?
A: A voter’s name is considered substantially similar if one or more of the following circumstances applies:
The name on the ID is slightly different from one or more of the name fields on the official list of registered voters.
The name on the voter’s ID or on list of registered voters is a customary variation of the voter’s formal name. For example, Bill for William, or Beto for Alberto.
The voter’s name contains an initial, middle name, or former name that is either not on the official list of registered voters or on the voter’s ID.
A first name, middle name, former name or initial of the voter’s name occupies a different field on the presented ID document than it does on the list of registered voters.
In considering whether a name is substantially similar, election officials will also look at whether information on the presented ID matches elements of the voter’s information on the official list of registered voters such as the voter’s residence address or date of birth.
Q: Does the new photo ID requirement apply to voting by mail?
A: The new requirement does not change the process for voting by mail.
Q: Does the address on my photo identification have to match my address on the official list of registered voters at the time of voting?
A: The new requirement makes no determination on voter address matching criteria; therefore, there is no address matching requirement.
Q: When is the DPS Election Identification Certificate going to be available?
A: The Election Identification Certificate is now available. Information regarding how to obtain an election identification certificate can be found at www.dps.texas.gov. You may also contact DPS by telephone at 512-424-2600 for more information.
Q: What happens if I refuse to show proof of identity?
A: Voters who refuse to show proof of identity will be allowed to vote by provisional ballot. However, please be advised that a refusal to show ID is not a valid ground for casting a provisional ballot, and it is likely that the voter’s ballot will be rejected by the ballot board.
Q: I’m not sure if I’m registered; how can I confirm my voter registration status?
A: You can confirm your registration status by going to http://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/index.shtml, Am I Registered to Vote?, where you will select one of three methods for conducting your search. You can base your search on:
your Voter Unique Identifier (VUID), which appears on your voter registration certificate;
your Texas driver’s license number, if you provided it when you applied for voter registration; or
your first and last name.
Or, you can call the voter registrar’s office in the county where you reside. To find the number, review the list of County Voter Registration Officials.
Q: If I send my registration by the deadline, what happens next?
A: Your voter registration becomes effective 30 days after it is submitted (and accepted*) by the county voter registrar. The county office will then put your name on the voter registration list, generate your voter certificate, and mail it to you. Once received, be sure to read the information on the back of the certificate, sign by the X on the “front” of the card (the yellow area), and keep your voter card in a safe place. This is what you will take with you to the polls to vote. Note that as long as your name is on the voter list, you may vote without presenting this certificate, but you must provide another form of identification. See discussion at right under “Voting without a Certificate.” *If your original application is missing required information, you will receive a notice in the mail and have a deadline to respond to the notice.
Q: I don’t remember seeing my voter registration certificate lately. Is that a problem? Don’t I just stay registered?
A: New certificates are mailed out every two years to the most recent address you gave to the voter registrar. If you do not recall receiving a new orange and white certificate in 2013, it could mean that you have moved without updating, or there is some other problem with your registration. If the certificate was mailed to an old address, it was returned to the registrar, and you were placed on the “suspense list” in that county. This means you have a grace period that allows you to vote in the same county in your old precinct, but if you do not vote, your name will be removed from the rolls after two federal elections have passed since you were placed on the suspense list. If you did not receive your certificate because you moved to a new Texas county, you will need to re-register.
Q: Can anybody vote early by mail (once referred to as absentee voting)?
A. Only specific reasons entitle a registered voter to vote early by mail (no longer called absentee voting). You may request a ballot by mail if you:
- will be away from your county on Election Day and during early voting;
- are sick or disabled;
- are 65 years of age or older on Election Day; or
- are confined in jail.
Provisional voting is designed to allow a voter whose name does not appear on the list of registered voters due to an administrative error to vote. The voter must complete an affidavit stating the reasons he or she is qualified to vote. Provisional voting is only used if the voter cannot qualify to vote by the methods described earlier. Important points are:
(1) the cast provisional ballots are kept separately from the regular ballots; and (2) the voter’s registration record will be reviewed later by the provisional voting ballot board (the early voting ballot board) and is counted only if the voter is determined to be a registered voter and is otherwise qualified to vote. Provisional voters will receive a notice in the mail by the 10th day after the local canvass advising them if their provisional ballots were counted, and if they were not counted, the reason why.
Convicted Felons and Voting
In Texas, a convicted felon regains the right to vote after completing his or her sentence. Therefore, once a convict completes the punishment phase (including any term of incarceration, parole, or supervision, or completed a period of probation ordered by the court), the convict is eligible to register and vote in the state of Texas.
For additional information, please email or call 1-800-252-VOTE (8683), or go to http://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/index.shtml or http://www.votetexas.gov/faq. – Information courtesy of the Office of the Texas Secretary of State