With elections in Texas still up in the air due to the ongoing redistricting fiasco, two big stories just emerged that highlight the fundamental problems in Texas, and the nation at large, with voter registration.
The non-profit voting rights organization, Voting For America, filed suit yesterday against the State of Texas “on behalf of Voters and the U.S. Constitution” “citing clear evidence that Texas’s election code related to voter registration violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).” The suit alleges that Texas election code places onerous restrictions on volunteers conducting voter registration drives, and limits access to voter rolls that could ensure that citizens actually have been added to the rolls.
Michael Slater, executive director of Voting For America, said, ” Texas rules have created a voter registration system characterized by criminal penalties and vague and unduly burdensome requirements that subvert major tenets of the NVRA and violate the Constitution. Current Texas law would make it nearly impossible for voter registration organizations to conduct their work in the state.”
The lawsuit, which names Secretary of State, Hope Andrade, and Galveston County Tax Assessor, Cheryl Johnson, as defendants contains several allegations:
- Texas improperly restricts public access to inspect and copy voter registration records in violation of the NVRA, thus severely hindering the ability of individuals and organizations to verify the accuracy of the voter rolls and the fairness of the voter application process.
- Texas improperly regulates the distribution of voter registration applications, as it requires anyone seeking to do so to first be appointed as a "voluntary deputy registrar (VDR)" by a county registrar, and places unfair and onerous restrictions and requirements on such VDRs. For example, VDRs must be registered to vote in the state of Texas, and may only accept registration applications from applicants who reside within the same county in which the VDR was appointed.
- Texas prohibits VDRs from mailing in completed applications. Rather, VDRs must personally deliver completed applications within five days of collection, a requirement that severely hinders the ability of large-scale voter registration drives to manage their programs and implement effective quality control measures.
- Texas places undue restrictions on how community organizations manage their employees, making it virtually impossible to fire under-producing employees and threatening organizations with such excessive threats of fines and criminal prosecution that running such a drive would be prohibitively risky in the state.
- The suit also takes issue with the Galveston County Registrar for enforcing a new Texas law requiring photo ID for voters. This action is in direct violation of the Voting Rights Act, which requires all voting laws in several states with a history of racially discriminatory election practices-including Texas-to be precleared by the Department of Justice (DOJ). To date, the DOJ has not cleared the Texas voter ID law.
"Voter registration policies in Texas, over at least the past decade, have created an environment that is hostile to voter registration," says Slater. "This lawsuit seeks to redress some of these policies, which violate state and federal law and endanger the rights of Texas citizens to participate in our democracy."
In national voter registration disaster news, the Pew Center released a study that found, among other things, that 1.8 million dead people are still listed on voter registration rolls, that 2.75 million people are registered to vote in more than one state, and that at least 51 million eligible Americans (thats 24% of the adult population folks) are not registered to vote at all. Pew also found that our antiquated, paper-based voter registration system is not only inefficient, but also costly. In Oregon in 2008, for example, it cost approximately $7.67 to process and update each voter’s registration. Canada, which they site as an example of modern registration practices, spends “less than 35 cents per voter and 93% of its eligible population is registered.”