Houston Chronicle: Hey, Gen Z: Texas makes it hard for us to vote. Fight back. (Opinion)

By Jessica Hulett, Houston Regional Coordinator at VoteRiders, and Zuanny Ibarguen, Houston Organizer at VoteRiders — OCTOBER 13, 2023

Hey, Gen Z: Texas makes it hard for us to vote. Fight back.
University of Houston Freshman Kevin Song registers to vote at NextGen America’s registration drive Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, in Houston. Yi-Chin Lee / Houston Chronicle Staff photographer

A ruling is expected soon on a federal trial challenging Texas Senate Bill 1, the state’s 2021 sweeping election overhaul that disproportionately impacts minorities and young people like us.

In August, that federal court ruled certain provisions of SB1 unlawful, including requiring clerks to reject mail-in ballot applications and completed mail-in ballots if they did not include an identification number that matched the ID voters had used on their original voter registration application. These new requirements wreaked havoc on the 2022 elections by contributing to an unprecedented rate of rejection of mail-in ballots and applications from eligible voters.

With all of this back-and-forth in the courts, it’s easy to get confused — but elections continue. Houston municipal elections are right around the corner, and it’s crucial that voters have a clear understanding of the requirements for casting their ballots — most importantly, that they will be asked to present a photo ID at the polls.

Even without the application of SB1’s new ID requirements for mail-in voting, Texas’ existing voter ID law requiring a photo ID for in-person voting has had a hard-hitting impact on young people. Research released by VoteRiders and the University of Maryland earlier this year found that 24% of those aged 18-29, and a whopping 39% of those between 18 and 19 lacked a current driver’s license in 2020. This was more than twice the rate of those aged 30 and older (9.7% lacked a license). Young people of color were especially likely to lack acceptable voter ID. Among 18- to 29-year olds, 39% of Hispanics and 37% of Black respondents lacked a current driver’s license, compared to just under 17% of their white counterparts.

Texas is the second youngest and sixth most diverse state in the country. It goes without saying that the state’s voter ID laws put a huge swath of the population at risk of not being able to cast a ballot that counts. On top of this, student IDs are not accepted as a valid form of voter ID in the state — not even student IDs from the state’s own university system.

Take it from our experience: As college students, we’ve had our own ballots rejected more than once. For Zuanny, this included a failed attempt to vote by mail while residing on my college campus, after which I decided to re-register in the same county as my school. Unfortunately, my name was misspelled in the system when I re-registered and no longer matched my photo ID. When I then went to vote in-person, I was rejected a second time. As a college student and brand-new voter, I found this very disheartening.

Even among those who do have the ID they need to vote, we’ve found that voter ID laws create confusion and frustration, potentially turning thousands off from voting altogether. In states where voter ID is required, as in Texas, more than 1 in 5 voters do not know they need an ID. Currently, VoteRiders staff work in the Houston area and throughout the state to ensure voters have access to the resources they need to successfully cast their ballot. Based on our experience speaking to countless eligible voters, we can say with certainty that voter confusion is only getting worse.

Gen Z is a uniquely politically active generation. We’re passionate about many issues that affect us all. But our generation is also increasingly dismissive of the political system and skeptical about whether or not we’re being invited into the political process versus being intentionally shut out. And with roadblocks like confusing voter ID laws that make it harder to take part in our democracy, can you really blame us?

Our message to Texans, and especially to our Gen Z peers, is simple: Your voice matters, and we are here to help ensure you can exercise your fundamental right to vote.

If you’re a Texan — young or not — and you don’t have the ID you need to vote or just aren’t sure if you do, you can call or text the VoteRiders Helpline at 866-ID-2-VOTE. Our voter ID experts will answer all your questions about Texas’ voter ID laws and help you get the ID you need to cast a ballot — all for free.

Jessica Hulett and Zuanny Ibarguen are Gen Zers and native Houstonians. They serve as Texas field staff for VoteRiders, the nation’s leading organization focused on voter ID.

Read the original article here.

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