Ron Reynolds represents Texas House District 27, which encompasses communities of Fort Bend county. Representative Reynolds currently serves as the Democratic Whip of the Texas House Democratic Caucus and a member of the House Committees on Elections; and Environmental Regulations. We are pleased to bring you this op-ed on the need for the Legislature to act to protect voting rights in Texas.
Missed Opportunities For Election Reform In The 84th Legislature
By Rep. Ron Reynolds, Whip of the Texas House Democratic Caucus
On April 28th, the United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the Texas photo voter id lawsuit. Justice Catherina Haynes posed a very good question to the attorneys on both sides. According to the Texas Tribune, “…she sounded perplexed that lawmakers had not made the law more palatable to critics as it winded through the federal court system. ‘They’re meeting right now. They had that opportunity. What are they doing?'”
Here’s the answer: not much. As Judge Haynes correctly pointed out, several bills were filed this session, by Democrats and Republicans, that would ameliorate some of the harmful effects of Texas’ photo voter id law. Bills were filed to allow the use of student IDs, federal government IDs, state government IDs, tribal IDs, IDs that are expired for elderly voters who no longer drive, and to include a photo on the voter registration card. Only a few, regarding tribal IDs , free birth certificates for voters seeking an EIC (which only helps voters born in Texas), and to allow voters over 70 to use an expired ID, have been scheduled for a hearing in committee. At this point in the session, bills that have not received a hearing are dead, as are bills that are not voted out of committee very soon. The Texas Legislature has had an opportunity to address issues that have led our law to be called the most stringent in the nation and the leadership has chosen to ignore those opportunities.
Correcting problems with the photo voter ID law is not the only opportunity the Texas Legislature has missed this session. Bills that would have modernized our election administration process have also gotten short shrift. Online voter registration, a concept that has been embraced by 20 other states and that passed out of the Texas Senate and out of the House Elections committee in 2013, finally received a committee hearing in the House on April 27. In spite of the fact that the bill has 76 co-authors of both parties (enough to ensure passage on the House floor), it appears that the bill will not advance because of opposition from a few members of the Elections Committee. This is a huge mistake for our state. Online registration has been proven to be more secure, more accurate, and more cost effective than paper registration.
Other bills that would modernize our election process, such as automatic registration and same day registration, didn’t even receive a hearing in either chamber. It’s time for Texas to stop trying to make it difficult for our citizens to vote and start enacting policies that encourage civic participation. Maybe then we wouldn’t be ranked one of the worst states in the country when it comes to voting.