College Students Had a Hard Time Voting in Texas During the Primary

Mar 4, 2016

Texas’ March 1 primary was the first time the state’s controversial voter ID law was in place during a presidential nominating contest.


Compared to midterm elections, more young people were expected to vote in this month’s election, but college students in Texas faced more hurdles to the ballot box than ever.

These new obstacles add complexity to a process that is already cumbersome for college students.

Ariana Sonsino, a student at UT Austin, said she tried voting, but found out she was registered in the wrong county.

“I got to the front of the line, [and] I was rejected because I was registered in Bexar County, so I couldn’t vote in Travis County,” Sonsino said.

This happens a lot, because college students often leave their hometown to go to school. They also commonly move from year to year. So, voting can be complicated because they have to re-register so much.

Then, even those who do the paperwork sometimes face issues at the polls Vanessa Beltran, another UT Austin student.

“I felt like I tried to do all of the right things, you know,” Beltran said. “I had registered in my hometown, and then when I got here I registered in Austin. Then, being a student, I changed addresses one year to the other, so I changed my address. Even so, when I got to the polling station I had to fill out a change-of-address form because it hadn’t been processed, even though I did that quite a while ago.”

Beltran said she’s lucky she had the time that day to take the extra steps to vote, though she wishes it had been easier.

Voting has gotten harder in Texas, especially for transient populations like college students, which describes a large swath of the population in Travis County.

In 2011, the GOP-controlled state Legislature passed a law requiring voters show one of seven approved forms of photo ID in order to cast a ballot, regardless of whether they have a voter registration card.

Maria Peralta is a member of a non-partisan coalition of lawyers called Election Protection. She says her group, which helps people facing problems at the polls, got quite a few calls from Texas.

“There was one woman, a Texas voter, who reported that she registered to vote with her social security number and when she went to the polls she only had a driver’s license from another state," she said.

The woman left the polling location without voting, though, she'd been advised to cast a provisional ballot.

Peralta said her group also got a call from an employee with the Department of Homeland Security, who also had to vote provisionally because his TSA ID wasn’t accepted.

“You know, it points to the irony of the law that is on the books, because this is an ID that requires a high level of security to obtain,” Peralta said.

Seth Krasne, who is also a student at UT Austin, said he heard the same kind of issues from his friends.

“One of my friends was telling me that yesterday that she stood in line at the [Flawn Academic Center] for three hours and then realized she brought an old ID, couldn’t vote and was turned away. And, by then it was too late because it was after seven,” he said. “She couldn’t end up voting.”

The problem here is that the list of IDs you can use to vote is pretty restrictive. On the short list are a Texas driver's license, a U.S. passport, a Texas concealed handgun license or a military ID. But, you can’t use a student ID – even if it’s from a state university like UT.

Dana DeBeauvoir, the Travis County Clerk, said it's already really hard to reach out and make sure college students took all the steps necessary to vote.

“It is very difficult to reach out, especially to those young people who are a little bit transient,” DeBeauvoir said. “It is very difficult to explain why students can’t use their student ID. It’s a perfectly valid form of identification. And Texas could have used it. Other states like Indiana use it.”

Krasne said he finds this endlessly frustrating.

“I was listening to CNN the other day, and they were talking about how the youth vote is unreliable,” he said. “I was getting really upset because it’s not unreliable, but the system makes it so difficult to do.”

Out of the state's five most populous counties, Travis County had the most provisional ballots cast—almost 1,800. Harris County, for example, cast 1,584 provisional ballots, according to the Secretary of State’s website. Tarrant County cast 903 provisional ballots.

DeBeauvoir says Travis County’s number is likely higher because there are a lot of college students here and a lot of people new to Austin. She said allowing same-day registration would also be a big help, but state officials haven’t been keen on it.

A spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s offices says problems related to the voter ID law still aren’t widespread.

A federal court struck down Texas’ law back in 2014. But because it was close to an election the law was allowed to stay in effect. The law’s future is now in the hands of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Annie Meyers contributed to this report.