Correction (2:55 pm): An earlier version incorrectly indicated that SB 990 included online voter registration.
In honor of the 50th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” which took place during the famous Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) filed an omnibus bill of election reforms that deserves bipartisan support. Senate Bill 990 would enhance access to the Constitutional right to vote and strengthen the integrity of elections in a state that trails the nation in voter participation.
“It’s our responsibility – today and in the future – to honor what millions have fought for by taking meaningful action towards the preservation of a fundamental freedom: access to the ballot box,” the Senator said.
The Justice Department has had a long rocky relationship with Texas under the Voting Rights Act and recent issues like Voter ID have become hyper partisan. Now, technology offers innovative ways to close the gap between the narratives of access and integrity — and that has led to some ideas winning support across party lines.
Take online voter registration for example. Although not specifically included in this omnibus bill, it has become a bipartisan effort that makes it easier for citizens to register to vote while reducing the cost of government and increasing the accuracy of application information. According to research by the Pew Charitable Trust 61% of Texans support being able to register to vote online, and 34% mistakenly already believe they can.
In 2012, Travis County spent $160,000 to hire dozens of temporary employees to help process voter registration applications. Officials say they could have saved as much as $100,000 if online voter registration had been implemented. County Tax Assessor Bruce Elfant has repeatedly made the point that the number of errors would be greatly reduced if individuals type and submit their own information rather than having a county employee transcribe from handwritten cards.
Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin), serving in her first session, is a Joint Author of HB 76, the stand alone online voter registration bill, along with 3 Republicans (Geanie Morrison, Lyle Larson and Patricia Harless), and Democrat Carol Alvarado of Houston. Israel, who made good on her pledge that such a bill would be her first to author, trumpeted the early success of GOP support. “Republicans and Democrats alike see an opportunity to work together to make our voter registration system more efficient, accurate, and cost effective,” she said. Israel is also on the Elections Committee where the bill was referred on March 9th and awaits a hearing date.
Ellis’ omnibus legislation includes same day voter registration (SDR). A dozen states currently allow the practice, including the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Illinois has implemented SDR after a successful pilot program in 2014. All states that have SDR require proof of citizenship and a Voter ID, (though in some states not necessarily a photo ID). Many of these states also provide additional fraud prevention triggers that ensure multiple or illegitimate ballots are not cast.
Other reforms in SB 990 attempt to raise awareness and engagement including: allowing 16 year olds to “pre-register” when they get their first Driver’s License, making Election Day a state holiday, and expanding absentee voting to all qualified registered voters.
President of the Texas Chapter of the NAACP Gary Bledsoe commended Senator Ellis for filing the voting rights legislation saying, “As a society we must be committed as President Johnson said to ensuring that every citizen of this nation who reaches adulthood should have the absolute right to vote and laws that have the effect of limiting or preventing persons from obtaining or exercising this franchise must be eliminated.” To do so he said, “puts our government on sound footing.”
Whether passed individually or as a whole, these measures will help to fulfil the promise of America and remove any excuse from Texans who have yet to habitually participate in their civic duty.
Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.
And, watch John Oliver, a Brit, explain how ridiculous some restrictive voting laws still are in America: