Despite Smooth Texas Election, MSNBC Insists There's 'Trouble on the Horizon' with Voter ID

The first election cycle in the Lone Star State with a photo ID mandate went off without a hitch on Tuesday. In fact, voter turnout was up 66 percent over the last comparable election cycle in 2011, according to the Texas Secretary of State's office.

But that has done nothing to stop MSNBC's fear-mongering as the network's Zachary Roth hacked out a piece ominously warning in the headline, "Texas voting suggests trouble on the horizon." Roth opened his piece with a woman who insists her being required to sign an affidavit when voting on Tuesday was part of some grand conspiracy to suppress the women's vote for Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) next year:

HOUSTON – For years, Stephanie Cochran has voted without any problems. But when she went to the polls Tuesday in her upscale, diverse neighborhood here, things went a lot less smoothly—thanks to Texas’ strict new voter ID law.

On the voter rolls, she’s listed as Stephanie Gilardo Cochran, while on her driver’s license, she’s Stephanie G. Cochran—a mismatch common to married or divorced women including Wendy Davis, the likely Democratic candidate for governor next year. As a result, Cochran faced what she described as a barrage of questions from poll workers about the discrepancy.

In the end, Cochran was able to vote by signing an affidavit in which she swore, on penalty of perjury, that she was who she claimed to be. But the experience left her angry: She told msnbc that she sees the law as an attempt to keep women from the polls.

“It’s against us,” Cochran said. “It’s to keep us from voting for Wendy.”

That is absolutely ludicrous conspiracy-theory garbage with no basis in reality, but Roth failed to find anyone who would talk Cochran down from the proverbial ledge. Instead, Roth cited another woman who also had to sign an affidavit and extrapolated from two isolated cases a worst-case scenario for next year's mid-term elections:

In the same boat was Leah McInnis, who even had her voter registration card with her. Nonetheless, thanks to a similar mismatch involving her maiden name, McInnis had to sign an affidavit to cast her ballot.

That experience appears to have been typical statewide. Tuesday’s off-year election was a dry run for Texas’ controversial voter ID law. On the surface things went pretty smoothly, with few voters forced to cast provisional ballots. That was enough for the law’s Republican supporters to claim vindication. But there were signs of potential trouble to come. There are no hard statistics yet, but a massive number of voters appear to have had to sign affidavits—a relatively simple procedure, but one that could cause problems in higher turnout elections. And of course, with one in ten Texans lacking ID by one estimate, it’s all but impossible to measure the number of people who were deterred by the law from voting.

At no point, however, did Roth note that the photo ID law in question does NOT require an exact match between the name on the voter rolls and the name on a driver's license or other form of government-issued ID. Again, from the Secretary of State's website, an October 24 news release headlined, "Exact name match NOT required for voting with photo ID" (emphasis mine):

AUSTIN, TX – Texas Secretary of State John Steen reminded voters today that when voting in person they will need to present a photo ID, but it is not necessary for the name on the ID and the name on the registration to match exactly.

“As long as the names are substantially similar, all a voter will have to do is initial to affirm he or she is the same person who is registered” said Secretary Steen. “Poll workers have been trained to account for names that might be substantially similar but not an exact match due to a number of circumstances including the use of nicknames, suffixes, and changes of name due to marriage or divorce.”

Early voting is currently taking place for the Nov. 5 election. This is the first statewide election with photo ID requirement in effect for in-person voting. Early voting ends Nov. 1.

Secretary Steen pointed out that the process has gone smoothly so far.

“We’re in our fourth day of early voting and have not heard any reports of any voter being turned away because the ID name and the registration name did not exactly match,” said Secretary Steen. “In fact, the numbers so far indicate the state is on track to beat turnout numbers from the last election of this kind in 2011.”

Secretary Steen also reminded voters that no one will be turned away from the polls because of photo ID.

“A voter without an approved form of photo ID will have the option to vote provisionally” said Secretary Steen. “A provisional voter will then have until the sixth day from Election Day to go to the county voter registrar to present an approved ID.”

Ah, but there's the rub, Roth might say: provisional ballots don't immediately count, and are hence a subtle form of disenfranchisement as voters would have to come back days after the election to get those votes counted.

But as Roth himself notes, provisional ballots account for a tiny percentage of votes cast and, in most every case, would not make a difference in an electoral contest unless it were well below a one percentage-point difference between the candidates:

In all, 2,354 provisional ballots were cast this year, representing 0.2% of total turnout, according to Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman with the Texas Secretary of State’s office. That’s compared to 738 provisional ballots, or 0.1% of turnout, in 2011, and 1,459 provisionals, or 0.14% of turnout, in 2009.

No governor's election in modern memory has been anywhere near being decided by half of a percentage point, as a review of the state's official "1992-current election history" web page confirms. Simply put, it's a safe bet that anyone casting a provisional ballot in November of next year could wager safely that his/her ballot won't be the difference between who takes up residence in the governor's mansion.

But why let facts get in the way of a good oppression narrative. MSNBC is not interested in the former but is keenly desirous of pushing the latter (emphasis mine):

Gabriella Lucero, 34, told msnbc that a worker at her Dallas polling place noticed a similar names mismatch, and told her she’d have to vote provisionally. To make her vote count, Lucero was told she’d need to go to a government office to get a state ID, and return within a week. Because she was departing for a business trip Wednesday morning, she left without voting.

“I was really upset when I got home,” said Lucero, who is Hispanic. “My rights were violated as a woman and as a minority.”

Lucero, who has a master’s degree and works for the state in victims’ services, said if she can be disenfranchised so easily, she worries about less savvy voters.

“I’m pretty in-the-know in terms of election stuff,” she said. “What happens to others who maybe aren’t as educated?”


There were also reminders Tuesday that the ID requirement is just one of several barriers to voting, especially for racial minorities and non-English speakers. Two elderly Hispanic women left a polling place in a heavily Hispanic Houston neighborhood in frustration after being told there were no Spanish-speaking poll workers to help them with the voting machines.

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