Democracy in Texas?
Texas' Faulty Voter Registration Procedures
A HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT FROM THE TEXAS CIVIL RIGHTS PROJECT
CREDITS AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS We are particularly indebted to Emily Pendleton who gave her time, effort, and skill, helping to research, oversee, and coordinate this report. This report also could not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of many TCRP volunteers and staff. We give each and all credit and thanks for their efforts: Gus Bunin Whitney Knox Maisie Kaiser Scott Jameson Lane Kazmierski Patricia Kelly Cooper Shear Amanda Hill David Chincanchan Michael Kurban Also, a special thanks goes out to other contributors with knowledge of matters in this report for their time and expertise, without which we could not have completed this report. Alex Canepa Janet Monteros Jacklyn Williams Bruce Elfant Dianne Wheeler Dee Lopez
TEXAS CIVIL RIGHTS PROJECT
Michael Tigar Human Rights Center 1405 Montopolis Drive Austin, TX 78741 Board of Directors Pablo Almaguér, Roxann Chargois, Molly Gochman, Renato Ramirez, Leona Diener, Carlos Cárdenas, Chuck Herring, and Tom Gutting
www.texascivilrightsproject.org (512) 474-5073 (phone) * (512) 474-0726 (fax) © Texas Civil Right Project, 2013 All Right Reserved
TABLE OF CONTENTS I. II. III. Introduction: Voting Registration Complaints – Just the Tip of the Iceberg.. ............. 1 Recommendations ..................................................................................................... 2 Texas’ Long and Turbulent History of Racial Disenfranchisement ............................ 7 A. Texas’ History .................................................................................................... 7 B. The Voting Rights Act. ..................................................................................... 13 C. The Shelby County v. Holder Decision ............................................................... 17 IV. Current Voter Registration Practices are Convoluted and Ineffective ...................... 20 The Department of Public Safety Registration .................................................... 21 V. High School Administrators Disregard Responsibility to Register Students.............. 23 School District Survey Response Map ................................................................ 27 VI. VII. League of Women Voters: Dissatisfied with Cooperation from High Schools .......... 28 Elections Director: Keith Ingram ............................................................................. 31 A. Summary of Interview........................................................................................ 31 B. Follow-Up to Ingram Interview .......................................................................... 33 VIII. Public Agencies Fail Their Duty to Provide Registration Assistance to Patrons ........ 35 A. Public Agencies Have Duty to Provide Voter Registration Assistance to Patrons ........................................................................................................... 35 B. The Texas Election Code Mandates Specific Voter Registration Services by Designated Agencies ....................................................................... 35 C. Additional Duties for DPS and Marriage License Offices ................................... 36 D. Voter Registration Agencies Fail to Adhere to Duties Mandated by the Texas Election Code ................................................................................ 37 E. The Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) ...................................... 37 F. The Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) and the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) .............................................. 37 G. The Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) .................... 38 H. The Department of Public Safety (DPS) ............................................................. 38 I. Marriage License Offices and Public Libraries ................................................... 39 J. Conclusion ......................................................................................................... 39 IX. Volunteer Deputy Registrars: Lacking in Uniformity and Haphazard ....................... 41
A. Methodology...................................................................................................... 43 B. Maps .................................................................................................................. 44 C. Deputy Registrar Timeline ................................................................................. 45 X. Appendix ................................................................................................................ 48 A. Election Code Excerpts ...................................................................................... 49 B. Survey Instruments for High School Compliance ............................................... 55 C. Ingram Interview Transcription .......................................................................... 59 XI. Bibliography ............................................................................................................ 64
I. INTRODUCTION: This human rights report has its origins in the November 2012 national election. Immediately after that election, the Texas Civil Rights Project began to receive anecdotal reports form Bexar and Harris Counties that people who had registered to vote were actually not able to cast their ballots because their names did not appear on the voter lists. The more we investigated these complaints, the more it became clear that this was a result of the hodge-podge way with which voter registration cards are processed by state and local agencies and within agencies. People’s registration certificates simply sit on desks for long periods of time before finally wending their way to the local county clerks for official entry onto the electoral list. The same appeared to happen in high schools, which must offer the opportunity for students, who will be eligible for the next election, to register to vote. Often this doesn’t happen, and even when it does, these enrollment forms somehow never even make it to the county voter registrar or clerk. These two issues alerted us to the fact that the voter registration procedures around Texas might be broken and in need of repair. We therefore decided to embark upon an analysis of the process around Texas, and found that, indeed, it is in disarray with no clear uniformity and no clear direction from the Texas Secretary of State, who serves in an election oversight role. In fact, the Secretary’s Elections Division director admitted in an interview that he wasn’t even sure what his job was, other “than to follow the law.” He certainly did not reflect the d ynamic leadership of earlier predecessors in office. Given that the legislature has made it more difficult to vote in recent years, reversing an earlier trend of facilitating voting, it is critical that people be able to register to vote promptly and properly. To that end, then, this report presents an overview of problematic voter registration areas and suggests a series of recommendations to correct the situation.
II. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR IMPROVING VOTING IN TEXAS: In reviewing the policies and procedures under the Texas Election Code and by interviewing voter registrars and high school administrations, representatives of voter registration agencies, as well as Keith Ingram, the Elections Division Director for the Texas Secretary of State, several areas for substantial improvement are evident. To address those issues, TCRP makes the following recommendations. 1. Voter Registration Agencies Should Employ Best Practices in Registering Voters by Using or Replicating DPS’ Electronic Monitoring System Voter registration agencies like the Department of Public Safety are critical in registering voters. It is important that these agencies accurately and competently perform their function of registering voters. In recent years, DPS has initiated an electronic registration system that simplifies the registration process. When applying for licenses or changing personal information on file, the applicant’s information is entered directly into a computer database. The system allows registrant information to be sent to the Secretary of State’s office electronically, eliminating delay and errors associated with mailing paper registration forms and manually entering information onto a database. The system also reduces costs by minimizing data entry personnel and mailing expenses. This system should be utilized by all voter registration agencies. Availability of such a system on a wide-scale basis would result in increased cost savings as well as more accurate and efficient conveyance of voter registration information. 2. The Texas Education Agency Also Must Take Responsibility in Holding High Schools to Their Duties Under Section 13 of the Texas Election Code and Facilitate Teacher Deputization The Texas Education Agency (TEA) must participate in ensuring high schools meet their duty under Section 13 of the Election Code. High school officials tend to be unaware of their obligation to administer voter registration cards to eligible seniors twice a school year. To better implement Section 13 of the Election Code, TEA should enact and enforce a policy that allows teachers of government and economic course curricula to distribute and collect voter registration forms. Such a policy would automatically deputize government and economic course teachers as registrars for their schools. Teacher deputization would aid in the overall goal of high schools taking an active role in registering young voters, and would help schools meet
their Section 13 duty. High school officials also must be held accountable for assuring the delivery of completed registrations to the proper authorities, something that currently occurs haphazardly. 3. Registration Confirmation Receipts Must Be Provided to All Voter Registrants A formal receipt must be provided to all voter registrants, whether they are registering to vote in conjunction with applying for benefits or registering with a deputy registrar. Receipts are vital to the registration process. Without receipts, citizens have no proof or confirmation of registration and have no recourse if they are denied the opportunity to vote on Election Day. Some voter registration agencies and voter registrars do provide registrants with a receipt, but others do not. The current system is also haphazard at best. Even where receipts are provided, in some cases the receipt serves as a dual receipt for registration as well as agency-specific services received that day. Such is the case with DPS where only one receipt is given to confirm both electoral registration and that a person received services. In these instances, it is not always clear that the receipt serves to confirm registration rather than serving only as a receipt of agency services. For this reason, separate and formal receipts are necessary to distinguish voter registration from a receipt the client obtains for receiving services. 4. The Texas Legislature Must Pass Laws To Enforce the Election Code and Grant Enforcement Power to State Elections Officials The Texas Election Code is admirable. However, without enforcement power, it falls short of protecting citizens’ right to vote. A recurrent theme throughout researching this report has been lack of authority to enforce. There are very few provisions in the Election Code that allow for criminal or civil sanctions for breach of the statute. As a result, entities bound with duties under the Election Code do not face repercussion when they fall short of their duties or utterly fail to comply with their duties altogether. As sections of this report discuss, virtually all of the entities bound by the Election Code fail to fulfill their duty. This is true whether the entity is mandated to register voters, provide outreach to potential voters, or deputize registrars. Keith Ingram, although expressing frustration after finding that some voter registration agencies were not in fact registering voters, stated that his office was incapable of sanctioning or forcing the agencies to act under the Code. To encourage voter participation, promote civic duty, and protect the right to vote, the Secretary of State and election officials, along with community
members, must buy into the role prescribed by the Election Code, and challenge lawmakers to enact enforcement powers, including a citizen’s private cause of action with court costs and attorney’s fees if the citizen prevails. 5. Improvements Must Be Made to the Voter Deputization Process (a) The Volunteer Registrar Deputization Process Should Become Streamlined and Standardized Across Texas The process required to become a volunteer deputy registrar needs to be streamlined so that deputization in one county applies statewide. When training sessions are inconsistently offered across the state and each county requires different procedures and deputization within that county, a great burden is placed on volunteers to navigate the process. Not only can it be difficult to identify and locate the training for the particular geographic region, but also requiring persons to become deputized in each county they wish to serve creates unnecessary hardship. In fact, such requirements may deter volunteers from participating at all. Promoting civic engagement and protecting against voter fraud was the initial intention of instituting the volunteer deputy registrar position; the government must be on guard that county practices do not become a barrier to legitimate political involvement. (b) Volunteer Deputy Registrars Must Be Permitted To Receive Completed Registration Forms from Citizens Registered in Any County As it stands, volunteer deputy registrars are only authorized to collect completed registration forms from citizens of the county for which the volunteer is deputized. This serves as a barrier where, as often happens, registrars volunteer at large gatherings and events to register citizens, many of whom may not be from the same county as the volunteer deputy registrar. This is particularly problematic, for example, where cities cross county boundaries. It makes no sense to require multiple-county deputization. Although mail-in registration forms help to better alleviate this inconvenience, authorizing volunteer deputy registrars to accept these registrations is a better guarantee that the registration will be submitted if returned by the deputy registrar to the proper authorities. 6. The Secretary of State Must Take a More Pro-Active Role in Encouraging High School Voter Registration by: a) Establishing and promoting regular contact with, and coordination between, voter registration agencies and high schools.
b) Actively seeking confirmation that voter registration agencies and high schools are fulfilling their duties under the Election Code. c) Providing more outreach to high school administrations regarding their duty to register voters and the importance of registering students to vote. Contact with administrations should require response and encourage dialogue between administrations and the Secretary of State. d) Take responsibility in making sure citizens are knowledgeable about voting laws and requirements by directing outreach efforts to communities. This includes vigorous use of both traditional and social media making outreach materials available in at least ten languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, German, Hindi, Italian, Korean, Spanish, Urdu, and Vietnamese 7. Additional Acceptable Documents for Purposes of Identification Should be Considered The implementation of the new voter ID law has created a significant barrier for some citizens. It can be time consuming and costly to obtain a currently required ID. Although the DPS has stepped in to help cover the costs of getting an Election Identification Certificate, other obstacles remain. There are those who do not have reliable means of transportation or have work obligations that make it difficult to find the time to make a trip to a DPS office that may be miles away. Moreover, many citizens, who are eligible to vote, obtain IDs which contain their photo and full name, such as badges for public employees, school issued IDs for university students, among many others. Since The Secretary of State is not taking measures to monitor the issues that arise due to the voter ID requirements, these alternative IDs should be sufficient proof of voter identity. 8. The Federal Court in San Antonio Should Accept the U.S. Department of Justice’s Efforts to Re-Subject Texas to the Voting Rights Act’s Pre-Clearance Requirements Texas is vulnerable to regressive and discriminatory voting practices without the protection of the pre-clearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act. On July 25, 2013, a month after the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision, Attorney General Eric Holder asked the U.S. District Court in San Antonio to re-subject Texas to federal preclearance. The Attorney General cited Texas’ recent history of racial discrimination as the main motivation behind his request to “bailin” Texas.
This was the Department of Justice’s first such action after Shelby County v. Holder. The DOJ decision to make Texas a top priority shows the threat that Texan minority voters face. The Texas Civil Rights Project supports the DOJ’s motion to “bail-in” Texas to a preclearance regime because, in the words of Attorney General Holder, “[we must] use every tool at our disposal to stand against discrimination wherever it is found.” 1
Eric Holder. National Urban League Annual Conference, Philadelphia, PA., July 25, 2013. http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/ag/speeches/2013/ag-speech-130725.html.
III. TEXAS’ LONG AND TURBULENT HISTORY OF RACIAL DISENFRANCHISEMENT: Like many areas of the country, Texas has a long and turbulent history of voting discrimination and suppression. Minority voters have endured electoral obstacles for nearly a century and a half, and recognizing this history is essential to understanding the need for improving voter registration procedures across the state and generally facilitating the franchise. The right to vote is the heart of a democracy. Each citizen should be able to exercise this fundamental liberty without discrimination or impediment. History, however, chronicles the opposite tale. Efforts to suppress the vote of minority persons, often violent, have recurred since adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 2 From the Nineteenth Century on, the South in particular has been rife with voter suppression measures and machinations. The Ku Klux Klan took passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and enfranchisement of black males as a threat to white supremacy, a way of life which only Democratic dominance in southern state legislatures would protect. Indeed, African American voters tended to vote in high numbers, proportionate to their population, and voted Republican because of President Abraham Lincoln and the post-Civil War Republicans, who ushered through the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments and various protective federal civil rights laws.3 Throughout the 1880s and well into the Twentieth Century, the KKK used violence and intimidation to scare African Americans away from the polls. The suppression of opposing party affiliation votes continues into today’s Texas, especially in light of the state’s increasing minority populations. A. Texas History4 Since gaining statehood in 1845, Texas has used various methods of disenfranchisement to prevent blacks and Texas citizens of Mexican origin (Tejanos) from meaningful political participation. Racial voting discrimination is “an insidious and pervasive evil … perpetuated in
The Fifteenth Amendment prohibits the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote on the basis of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." It was ratified on February 3, 1870, as the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments, and adopted on March 30, 1870.
In fact, it was the civil rights movement in the mid-Twentieth Century that saw the seismic realignment of African Americans into the Democratic Party and then, as a result, the massive shift of Southern whites into the Republican Party
We are grateful to Cooper Shear for his historical research and authorship of this section.
certain parts of our country through unremitting and ingenious defiance of the Constitution.” 5 The fight for equal suffrage for blacks and Tejanos has continued only in fits and starts, advancing only grudgingly against minority interests and with compromising steps. Anglo Americans disenfranchised Tejanos from the earliest days of Texas history by prohibiting bilingual ballots in some southern areas. 6 While statewide efforts to limit the vote in Texas at the 1845 statehood Constitutional Convention failed, “protests and threat s from AngloAmericans in many counties were constant reminders of a fragile franchise.” 7 Texas used segregation and disenfranchisement to fix its “Mexican problem,” much like the rest of the South did for its “Negro problem.” Twenty-two years after Texas became a state, the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 enfranchised the state’s black citizens. In the years following blacks actively participated in elections. Six of the black delegates elected during these years succeeded in blocking the poll tax as a voting requirement at the Second Constitutional Convention in 1875. 8 Between 1871 and 1895 at least forty-one black legislators served in the Texas government, thirty-seven members of the House and four Senators, as well as many more city and county officials. 9 However, gerrymandering of majority black counties diminished black access to legislative and judicial seats. After the bright years following Reconstruction, the situation for minority voters in Texas quickly diminished.10 The Fifteenth Amendment, passed in 1870, held that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Congress possessed enforcement authority over the states.
South Carolina v. Katzenbach. 383 U. S. 301. 309 (1966). Supreme Court rejected South Carolina’s challenge to the. Voting Rights Act of 1965 and holding it was a valid exercise of Congress's power under the enforcement clause of the Fifteenth Amendment.
David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987), 130.
Chandler Davidson and Bernard Grofman (eds.), Quiet Revolution in the South: The Impact of the Voting Rights Act 1965-1990 (Princeton University Press, 1994), 234.
Alwyn Barr, Black Texans: A History of African Americans in Texas, 1528-1995 (University of Oklahoma Press, 1996), 80. Texas effectively banned blacks from elections a generation after emancipation. Black voter turnout collaspsed from 100,000 in the 1890s to about 5,000 by 1906.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court began chipping away at the Fifteenth Amendment as early as 1876 with Cruikshank v. United States, in which Chief Justice Waite declared that the amendment “did not positively confer the right of suffrage on anyone.” 11 In response to the limited non-Anglo political power that existed in Texas in 1876, “local whites, as in other parts of the South, resorted to extra-legal devices, such as fraud, intimidation, intrigue, and murder,” to block black and Tejano voting. 12 Anglo cattle barons in rural Texas, in the words of one Texas scholar, “established an ‘economic, social, and political feudalism’ that was ‘natural’ and not necessarily resented by those who submitted to it.”13 Texas’ annexation by the United States merely lightened the complexion of the patrones (bosses) and consolidated the rural Tejano vote of impoverished rancheros and indebted working class peones behind the now mostly Anglo landowning elite. Farmers accused the rancheros and Democratic officials of “bossism” and described their tactics as “corralling” and “herding Mexicans.” 14 Throughout the second half of the Nineteenth Century new farm settlers found it difficult to gain political power in this smooth running machine of established landowner bosses, supported by their Tejano workforce constituency. 15 Urban areas with large Mexican American populations protected the franchise for Tejanos in the latter half of the Nineteenth century. The culture of bossism was much more difficult to implement in urban areas due to increased employment opportunities. San Antonio had fifty-seven out of eighty-eight Tejano alderman between 1837 and 1847. Despite efforts to protect the Tejano vote, the proportion of city officials between 1875 and 1884 of Mexican
Walter Burnham, Voting in American Elections: The Shaping of the American Political Universe since 1788 (Academia Press, 2010), 31-32.
Darlene Clark Hine, Steven F. Lawson, Merline Pitre, Black Victory: The Rise and Fall of the White Primary in Texas (University of Missouri Press, 2003), 72. Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans, 8. See also, Arnoldo de León, “Managing the Mexican Vote,” in Mexican Americans in Texas: A Brief History ( Harland Davidson, Inc., 1991), 40.
13 14 15
Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans, 130.
Ibid. The King Ranch according to Jim Wells’ testimony, "directed five hundred Mexican votes ‘through friendship and love': 'The King people always protected their servants and helped them when they were sick and never let them go hungry, and they always feel grateful, and it naturally don't need any buying, or selling or any coercion - they went to those that helped them when they needed help.' Moreover, explained Wells, this type of guidance was a natural idea among Mexicans: 'The Mexican naturally inherited from his ancestors from Spanish rule, the idea of looking to the head of the ranch – the place where he lived and got his living – for guidance and direction. It came legitimately and naturally from that Spanish rule – that idea did.'"
descent dropped more significantly than the proportion Tejanos in the population. 16 The early 1900s offered Tejanos the choice between disenfranchisement and a manipulated vote. Texas Anglos believed that Tejanos were their racial inferiors who were a “political menace” and supported anyone who would give them a handout.17 New farmers who moved to Texas with political aspirations confronted politicians who were kept in power by Tejano voters. The easiest way to defeat this machine was to disenfranchise the old-timers’ base of support, the Texas Mexicans. In 1902, some counties established a poll tax. The following year, the Terrell Election Law shortened the poll tax registration and payment time to between October and February. Terrell himself explained the legislation as an effort to prevent “the flood gates for illegal voting as one person could buy up the Mexican and Negro votes.”18 In 1904, the State Democratic Executive Committee approved a measure compelling county committees to require voters in the Democratic primary to affirm, “I am a white person and a democrat.”19 During the same year, the Texas electorate established a poll tax using a constitutional amendment. From 1903 to 1905, the Texas legislature “enacted laws that codified the poll tax, encouraged use of the exclu sive white primary by the major parties, and established an annual four-month voter registration period that ended nine months before the general election.”20 Language discrimination uniquely affected Mexican-American access to the ballot box. In 1918, interpreters were banned from polling places, an effort clearly aimed to prohibit those with limited English knowledge from voting. Combined with the segregation of Tejanos from Texas schools, this ban created a systemic barrier to equal voting rights. Texas’ social and economic oppression made it nearly impossible for minorities to effectively redress their deprivation through political participation. Tejanos were subjects of “manorial society” until they were formally disenfranchised around 1914 in many South Texas counties through establishment of exclusive white men’s primaries; Tejanos were only able to cast their vote for candidates whom they had no participation in selecting. Because the state was overwhelmingly Democratic, the primary was
16 17 18 19 20
Davidson and Grofman, Quiet Revolution in the South, 236. Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans, 131. Ibid. 143. Ibid. Davidson and Grofman, Quiet Revolution in the South, 235.
the most important election.
The general election was merely a de facto ratification of
candidates chosen in the primary. In response to a successful litigation by a black Waco citizen that challenged a nonpartisan white primary in 1918, the Texas legislature passed a law in 1923 stating, “In no event shall a negro be eligible to participate in a democratic primary election held in the State of Texas.” 21 The Democratic Party was the only effective political body in Texas at the time the legislature eliminated black membership. Election officials were instructed to destroy the ballots of any Negro who attempted to vote.22 No other ex-confederate state took such an action; “for black Texans the 1923 statute ended their already limited involvement and influence in state and local politics. The white primary was like an iron curtain, for even if blacks became literate, acquired property, and paid poll taxes, they could not conceal or change the color of their skins.”23 After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down explicit white primaries in Nixon v. Herndon (1927), the Texas legislature enacted a law allowing political parties total autonomy to decide their membership. This allowed the State to transfer authority to the Democratic convention, which rapidly adopted the policy of white-only primaries. The Texas Supreme Court held in cases throughout the 1930s that political parties were voluntary private organizations, not state organizations, and therefore had the right to dictate membership qualifications. White primaries had obvious and negative effects on minority populations. Texas congressional candidates could effectively ignore their black constituents and close their eyes to brutality such as lynching and KKK activities, and still win elections because minorities could not vote for a candidate who would represent their interests. 24 It was not until 1944, when then-attorney Thurgood Marshall took on Smith v. Allwright, that the Fifteenth Amendment would finally apply to white primaries in Texas. Marshall was the counsel for a black Texas doctor who was denied the vote in a primary election. He lost the case in Texas, but won on appeal to the U.S Supreme Court in 1944. The high court ruled that the all-
Davidson and Grofman, Quiet Revolution in the South, 238.
Darlene Clark Hine, Steven F. Lawson, Merline Pitre, Black Victory: The Rise and Fall of the White Primary in Texas (University of Missouri Press, 2003), 69.
Juan Williams, Foreword to Voting Rights and Wrongs: The Elusive Quest for Racially Fair Elections by Abigail Thernstrom, (Washington D.C: AEI Press, 2008), xvii.
white primary violated the Fifteenth Amendment because it “endorses, adopts a nd enforces the discrimination against Negroes.”25 Justice Thurgood Marshall later would recount this case as his favorite. Texas looked for new ways to limit minority voters’ impact after the Court struck down the all-white primary in 1944. Black enfranchisement seemed all but inevitable, given minority participation in World War II. However, vote dilution rendered the minority franchise ineffective in many Texas towns. Vote dilution can occur through a variety of means, some as innocuous as local newspapers that run articles hinting there will be high minority turnout at upcoming elections.26 Bloc voting of one group to keep another from adequate political representation is nearly impossible to quantify; it is not giving minorities half a vote, but instead making minority votes worth half by pitting one group against another. An example of the effectiveness of vote dilution is found in Taylor, Texas, where forty percent of the population was black or Latino, but where no minority members were elected to city positions until 1965. The Twenty-Fourth Amendment prohibited the poll tax in federal elections in 1964. Texas was one of only five states to maintain its poll tax even after the amendment was ratified. 27 The poll tax operated another two years in state elections. In 1966 the U.S. Attorney General brought Texas to court under the authority of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment and the recently passed Voting Rights Act of 1965 to have Texas’ state poll tax invalidated because of its purposeful disenfranchisement of black and Tejano voters. All previous attempts to abolish the tax had failed, even though the tax clearly had negative effect on minority voter turnout. Shortly thereafter, excessive candidate filing fees were found unconstitutional in Bullock v. Carter because “the very size of the fees imposed under the Texas system gives it a patently exclusionary character … [and] there is the obvious likelihood that this limitation would fall more heavily on the less affluent segment of the community,” a segment pri marily made up of disadvantagedminorities.28 In 1975, Texas was subjected to federal preclearance under the Voting Rights Act. The
25 26 27 28
Ibid. Chandler Davidson, Minority Vote Dilution (Harvard University Press, 1984), 2-5. Davidson and Grofman, Quiet Revolution in the South, 240. Bullock v. Carter, 405 U.S. 134 (1972).
Texas government now had to gain federal permission – “preclearance” – for any changes to its voting procedures and prove that any proposed legislation did not have “the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color.”29 B. The Voting Rights Act One of the nation’s premier civil rights accomplishments is the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This legislation was passed by the 89th U.S. Congress and signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson and established rigorous protections for the right to vote. The law initially aimed to safeguard the franchise for African Americans against impediments by Southern states, such as the notorious “literacy tests.” The VRA eventually expanded to protect the integrity of voting rights for minority citizens across the nation. The act has nineteen sections; among most important is Section 5, which requires certain areas to gain federal permission – “preclearance” – for any changes to their voting procedures. A jurisdiction subject to Section 5 preclearance must submit all changes to voting laws or practices to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for review. If the proposed legislation has “the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color,” then the law will be blocked. 30 When Congress originally enacted the VRA, it determined that discriminatory voting practices were more prevalent in certain areas of the country than in others. Section 4 addresses this issue by generating a formula to target those jurisdictions subject to Section 5 preclearance. 31 Areas covered by the Section 4 coverage formula include: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, most of Virginia, four counties in California, five counties in Florida, two townships in Michigan, ten towns in New Hampshire, three counties in New York, forty counties in North Carolina, and two counties in South Dakota.32 Texas was not originally subject to Section 5 preclearance. As a result, the state’s minority communities continued to face rampant electoral discrimination and disenfranchisement until 1975, when Congress extended the preclearance requirement to Texas. Preclearance has
Voting Rights Act of 1965, Pub. L. No. 107-296, http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?doc=100&page=transcript.
“Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.” U.S. Department of Justice: Civil Rights Division, http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/misc/sec_4.php#sec4 “Section 5 Covered Jurisdictions.” U.S. Department of Justice: Civil Rights Division, http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/sec_5/covered.php.
been a useful tool used to reject a host of clear discriminatory measures by the Texas legislature, including a re-registration requirement for all the state’s voters.33 Indeed, since its application to Texas, preclearance has blocked every legislative and congressional redistricting scheme as discriminatory. In the past decade and a half, there have been significant VRA successes for Texas minority voters. In 2001, for example, the initial Congressional redistricting plan “caus[ed] the net loss of three districts in which the minority community would have had the opportunity to elect its candidate of choice.” 34 The state was forced to create a new, equitable redistricting scheme. In 2006, the North Harris Montgomery Community College District attempted to cut election-day polling locations from 84 to 12 for the May election. Not only would this have decreased convenient polling location opportunities for all citizens, but these 12 locations were positioned at strategic spots around the district favoring the white vote. The site selected to serve the smallest amount of minority voters would serve approximately 6,500 voters whereas the site to serve the largest percentage of minority voters within the district would serve more than 67,000 voters.35 The Justice Department determined the district was unable to prove that this change would not have a retrogressive effect on minority voters.36 Harris County became known as a hot spot for voter suppression actions as the Hispanic population rose and elections became increasingly tighter. Paul Bettencourt served ten years as the elected Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector until he resigned in late 2008, right after being re-elected to a third term, to pursue a private business venture. However, there was more to his untimely resignation than just a new business endeavor. Only a few days prior to his formal resignation, the Texas Democratic Party and the Harris County Democratic Party filed a federal suit against him for failing to process approximately 7,000 provisional ballots and 1,000 mail-in
Chandler Davidson and Bernard Grofman (eds.), Quiet Revolution in the South: The Impact of the Voting Rights Act 1965-1990, Princeton University Press, 1994, 240.
Ralph F. Boyd, Jr., (Assistant Attorney General) to Geoffrey Connor (Acting Texas Secretary of State), “Section 5 Objection: Redistricting Plan (House),” November 16, 2001. http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/sec_5/ltr/l_111601.php. Rachel Maddow, “Little Faith House Can Secure Voting Rights after SCOTUS Blow,” The Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC.
The United States of America, Plaintiff, v. North Harris Montgomery Community College District, and the Board of Trustees of the North Harris Montgomery Community College District, Defendants ., WL 2515711 (S.D.Tex. 2006).
ballots, and failing to register voters due to overly technical reviews of their applications. Further, Bettencourt refused to provide requested information on voter registration procedures, which were not discovered until after the 2008 election deadlines had passed. Therefore, many provisional ballot votes went uncounted.37 Upon Bettencourt’s resignation, the Harris County Commissioners Court ha d to appoint his replacement, with a special election to follow in 2010 to fill the remainder of the term. Rather than appointing Bettencourt’s Democratic opponent in the 2008 election, Dr. Diane Trautman, the Commissioners Court appointed Republican Leo Vásquez. A year later, the Texas Democratic Party and the Harris County Democratic Party filed a complaint against Vásquez for similar election suppression activities, including improper denial of approximately 65,000 voter registration applications. In August 2010, Vásquez admitted to rejecting over 1,000 applications for not providing a Texas driver’s license number or Social Security number, even though federal law does not require these items to register to vote.38 Vásquez admitted to rejecting over 1,500 citizens for allegedly submitting multiple applications even though submission of more than one application is not a lawful reason for rejection. Vásquez also admitted to the pending status of about 10,000 applications that were properly filled out and timely received prior to the 30-day election cutoff and more than seven days before the time when county voter registrars were required to process applications. But, under Vásquez, those applications were also ignored.39 In 2011, the Texas Legislature passed a law that required all voters to present state-issued photographic identification in order to vote. It justified this law by claiming that it protected against voter fraud. The U.S. Department of Justice saw through this guise, noting that the state did not provide evidence of significant voter fraud. DOJ found that the Voter ID law unfairly targeted Hispanic voters who were “120 percent more likely than a non-Hispanic registered voter
Texas Democratic Party & Harris County Democratic Party v. Paul Bettencourt, Harris County Tax Assessor & Voter Registrar, No. 4:08-CV-03332 (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division 2008).
42 U.S.C. §1971.
Texas Democratic Party & Harris County Democratic Party v. Leo Vasquez, Harris County Tax Assessor Collector & Voter Registrar, No. 4:08-CV-03332 (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division 2008).
to lack this identification.” 40 In addition, the cost associated with these IDs placed “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor”; Attorney General Eric Holder even denounced the Voter ID law as a “poll tax.”41 The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia also found that Texas’ 2011 redistricting plan was retrogressive. The state’s population had grown by 4.3 million, the majority of which were minority persons (two-thirds Hispanic and 11 percent African American). Nevertheless, the new districts were drawn to allow Republicans to win three out of the four new seats.42 The U.S. Justice Department moved to block this extreme case of gerrymandering. The most compelling evidence of discriminatory redistricting was the “substantial surgery” and removal of district’s “economic engines” from Congressman Al Green, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson’s districts. Circuit Judge Griffith pointed out in his opinion that “No such surgery was performed on the districts of Anglo incumbents. In fact, every Anglo member of Congress retained his or her district office,” and there was “unchallenged evidence that the legislature removed the economic guts from the Black ability districts.”43 This is just the latest in what has become standard practice for Texas voting legislation. As we remember, every redistricting cycle for the last four decades has found Texas in court for racial gerrymandering, discriminatory vote dilution, and other voting-rights infringements.44 The gerrymandering issue does appear like it will be resolved anytime soon. In a response to a lawsuit concerning the latest oppressive redistricting proposal, the State claimed: DOJ’s accusations of racial discrimination are baseless. In 2011, both houses o f
Thomas E. Perez (Assistant Attorney General) to Keith Ingram (Director of Elections) “Section 5 Objection: Voter Registration and Photographic Identification Procedures Contained in Chapter 123 (S.C. 14),” March 12, 2012. http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/sec_5/ltr/l_031212.php.
Tom Kludt and Catherine Thompson. “Federal Court Rules Texas Voter ID Law Is Discriminatory.” Talking Points Memo, August 30, 2012. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/federal-court-rulestexas-voter-id-law-is-discriminatory.
41 42 43 44
Ari Berman, “Federal Court Blocks Discriminatory Texas Redistricting Plan,” The Nation, 2012. Texas v. United States, 831 F.Supp.2d 244 (D.D.C. 2011)
See, e.g., League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, 548 U.S. 399 (2006); Vera v. Richards, 861 F.Supp. 1304 (S.D.Tex. 1994), aff'd sub nom. Bush v. Vera, 517 U.S. 952 (1996); Terrazas v. Slagle, 789 F. Supp 828 (W.D. Tex. 1992), aff’d sub nom., Richards v. Terrazas, 505 U.S. 1214 (1992) (mem.) and Slagle v. Terrrazas, 506 U.S. 801(1992) (mem.); Upham v. Seamon, 456 U.S. 37 (1982); White v. Weiser, 412 U.S. 783 (1973); White v. Regester, 412 U.S. 755 (1973). See also Texas Redistricting Cases: the 1990s, http://www.senate.leg.state.mn.us/departments/scr/redist/redsum/txsum.htm.
the Texas Legislatures were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats. It is perfectly constitutional for a Republican controlled legislature to make partisan districting decisions. 45 Party lines, however, coincide with racial lines. In the 2012 presidential election, eighty percent of minority voters voted for the Democratic candidate, President Obama. 46 So, even if we assume that Texas legislators are motivated by politics and not racism, their actions still have the effect of suppressing the minority vote. C. The Shelby County v. Holder Decision Despite the many instances of ongoing racial discrimination, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the coverage formula outlined in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on June 25, 2013. Chief Justice John Roberts, speaking for the majority, determined that, while Section 4 was rational and necessary for holding jurisdictions accountable for the election procedures at the time of the enactment of the original law, it is outdated and thus unconstitutional: “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”47 The Section 4 coverage formula of the VRA decided which jurisdictions would be subject to Section 5 preclearance. Without the formula, Section 5 becomes essentially null and void because no jurisdictions are subject to federal preclearance. The Supreme Court called on Congress to create a new formula, yet as of today, no action has been taken. So, without preclearance, how will minority voting rights be protected? Even the Supreme Court admits that “voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that.”48 As it stands today, the only way to challenge a discriminatory voting law is to file suit under Section 2 of the VRA. Section 2 explicitly bans laws or practices that hinder the ability of individuals to vote because of their ethnicity or race.
Perez v. Texas, 891 F.Supp.2d 808, 838 (W.D. Tex. 2012).
“Study: Minority Groups Who Voted 80 Percent Obama To Become Majority.” CBS-DC, November 8, 2012. http://washington.cbslocal.com/2012/11/08/study-minority-groups-who-voted-80-percent-obamato-become-majority/. Ryan Reilly, Mike Sacks, Sabrina Siddiqui, “Voting Rights Act Section 4 Struck Down by Supreme Court,” Huffington Post, 2013.
Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder, 133 S.Ct. 2612, 2615, 186 L.Ed.2d 651 (2013).
Reliance on Section 2 to bring suit causes numerous issues. Litigation is long, expensive, and arduous. It may take years before the courts pass a final verdict on a lawsuit. During that time, minority communities are left to suffer under discriminatory practices. Additionally, the change in the law shifts the burden of proof onto citizens to prove discrimination. Before the recent changes, the burden was on local government to prove that its practices were not discriminatory. Minority voting rights in Texas now face a grave threat. On June 25, 2013, the day of the Supreme Court’s decision concerning the VRA, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot announced, “with today’s decision, the state’s Voter ID law will take effect immediately”. Voters now must provide one of the following in order to vote: a Texas driver license issued by the Department of Public Safety (DPS); a Texas Election Identification Certificate issued by DPS; a Texas personal identification card issued by DPS; a Texas concealed handgun license issued by DPS; a U.S. military identification card with the person’s photograph; a U.S. citizenship certificate with the person’s photograph; or a United States passport.49 In addition, without preclearance protection, the Texas legislature will have free rein to gerrymander to its heart’s content,. This could be disastrous for minority voting rights. Keith Ingram, the Texas State Elections Division Director, believes that the repeal of the Voting Rights Act will have no effect on voting practices in Texas. He thinks that counties will not institute regressive tactics because they “want to get it right”. 50 Recent history has shown, however, that “getting it right” and winning frequently become convoluted, and without proper regulation, Texan officials cannot be trusted to protect the voting rights of all individuals. On July 25, 2013, just one month after the Supreme Court’s VRA decision, Attorney General Eric Holder asked the U.S. District Court in San Antonio to re-subject Texas to federal preclearance. The Attorney General cited Texas’ recent history of racial discrimination as the main motivation behind his request to “bail-in” Texas. 51 This request was the Department of
“Photo ID now required for Voting in Texas,” Texas Secretary of State: John Steen, 2013. Interestingly enough, official college or university photo identification cards or photo clergy identification cards are not acceptable under the statute, or any other official agency-issued ID cards.
See Appendix C, Keith Ingram (Director of Elections) interview by Emily Pendleton, Lane Kazmierski, and Whitney Knox. September 18, 2013. Eric Holder, “Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers Remarks at the National Urban League Annual Conference” (speech, National Urban League Annual Conference, Philadelphia, PA, July 25, 2013) http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/ag/speeches/2013/ag-speech-130725.html.
Justice’s first action after the Shelby County decision. The DOJ’s decision to make Texas its to p priority shows the dire threat facing Texas minority voters. The court has yet to respond to the request, but hopefully, either Congress or the court system will take the necessary steps to protect voting rights in Texas in the near future. Denial of voting-rights is not a mere political maneuver; it is a grave offense that goes against the deep-seated tenets of our nation. “Depriving us of suffrage,” Frederick Douglass said, “you affirm our incapacity to form intelligent judgments respecting public measures … to rule us out is to make us an exception, to brand us with the stigma of inferiority.” 52 Voting rights are the capstone of democratic citizenship, but the Supreme Court has recently chosen to uphold federalism over protecting the nation’s most vulnerable citizens’ fundamental right. Constitutional and statutory law, in addition to evolving jurisprudence, developed to protect Texas’s minority citizens’ voting rights; however, no measure has been able to ensure complete protection. Texas history proves constant vigilance is necessary from both the courts and lawmakers to overcome the persistent attempts to diminish minority voting rights. Too many people have died, suffered beatings, and given their all to assert the right of all citizens to vote for us not to honor their work for the benefit of our society, our children, and our grandchildren. The future of our country may well depend on our efforts.
Douglass, “What the Black Man Wants” (speech, Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Anti Slavery Society, Boston, 1865).
IV. CURRENT VOTER REGISTRATION PRACTICES ARE CONVOLUTED AND INEFFECTIVE Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant is a strong advocate for registering citizens to vote. He holds the position of voter registrar for the county. As of November 2012, 82 percent of the voting age population in Travis County was registered to vote. A record high was recorded in 2004 with 94 percent of the voting age people registered. Mr. Elfant is determined to raise these numbers back to the 2004 pinnacle. When compared to other metropolitan areas in Texas, Travis County registers a large number of voters. As of January 2012, the county registered over 10 percent more of its voters than Dallas and Harris Counties. 53 The voter registrar for each county alone cannot register all the voters within the county. Texas requires each county to approve volunteer deputy voter registrars to help with this process. But not just anyone is allowed to register eligible citizens to vote. If someone wishes to help Texas citizens register, that individual must go to a training session held by the voter registrar for the county in which the person wishes to register voters. There are many provisions that attain to the role of deputy voter registrars. For example, they must: • Hand deliver all voter registration applications to the county voter registrar within 5 days of receiving the application • Provide some form of receipt to applicants acknowledging their submitted application • Check that the application is complete before it is accepted Either Bruce Elfant or his training assistant presents these requirements to Travis County volunteer registrars during their 30-60 minute training session. The importance of following the guidelines is emphasized during this training session for Travis County volunteers, but each county holds deputy registrars to its own level of expectation. Training sessions are required for each county. However, the extent to which the requirements are conveyed varies from county to county. Between the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, Travis County stepped up its volunteer deputy registrar training, which, in effect, reduced the number of errors on the voter registration cards and therefore lessened the number of rejected applications due to missing information.
Tina Morton, “Travis County Honors Over 2,000 Volunteer Deputy Registrars,” Register U+2 Campaign, 2012.
The most reliable way to ensure a voter application reaches the county voter registrar is by mailing or personally delivering the form to the registrar’s office. But mistakes happen. Therefore, to guarantee proof of registration, the Texas Election Code requires that receipts be provided to all citizens who turn in a registration form to deputy registrars or other intake locations. This allows voters the ability to provide verification of registration prior to the 30-day processing period. If a voter has not received the registration certificate in the mail by Election Day and presents his or her receipt at the polls, the election judge is required to permit the person to vote a provisional ballot. The ballot and receipt are then delivered to the citizen’s county voter registrar to determine why that person has not received a voting certificate, why his or her name does not appear on the rolls, and whether or not the individual is eligible to cast the ballot. In Travis County, receipts are attached as a stub at the bottom of the registration card by a perforated seam, and detached once the deputy registrar approves the completion of the application. Receipt forms vary across intake locations and differ in every county. The Department of Public Safety Registration The Department of Public Safety is one of the main locations where citizens register to vote. Across Texas, every DPS office is required to ask each customer if he or she wishes to register to vote. The Secretary of State receives a large majority of registration applications from DPS locations and, in turn, transfers those forms to the appropriate county voter registrar to be processed and placed on the voter rolls. This process has evolved over the years. Prior to 2009, the registration applications from the DPS offices were based off printed forms, which presented a larger issue for voters. Whether DPS clerks simply forgot to check ‘yes’ when a customer confirmed the desire to register or the printed application got lost in other piles of DPS paperwork, situations would occur in which the Secretary of State would not receive the citizen’s registration application to be transferred to the county voter registrar. This situation allowed citizens to believe they had registered, when in actuality, for no fault of their own, they had not. There is no way of knowing which citizens’ applications fell through the cracks in this process until they presented themselves at the polls. The only way of verifying their registration was through an extensive search of DPS data files, which DPS employees were reluctant to perform during the November 2012 election. The 2012 election was the first time many DPS registrants, who registered prior to 2009, appeared at the polls.
Hopefully, the majority of these unprocessed applications have been recovered and resolved, but there is still no way of knowing. The DPS registration process has improved since changes in 2009. Currently, applications are transferrable electronically so clients’ information on their license is used to fill out a registration form and directly passed on to the Secretary of State along with the applicant’s electronic signature. This process provides fewer opportunities for errors. In addition, the data received by the Secretary of State is easily matched against the DPS database for registration application transfers. The Voter Registrar Director for Travis County, Dee López, expressed concerns for voter registration at DPS offices. During the November 2012 elections, the ability to renew expired licenses online confused and misinformed voters about their registration status. During the online renewal process, there is an option for the applicant to check ‘yes’ for registering to vote. But checking ‘yes’ did not actually register the applicant, because the only way to register is by performing the renewal process in person at the DPS office. The Texas Department of Information Resources responded to the complaints of the confusing question by making a note under the proposed registration question stating, “Selecting ‘yes’ does not register you to vote. A link to the Secretary of State Voter website (where a voter application may be downloaded or requested) will be available on your receipt page.” This issue caused many citizens to remain ineligible to vote in the November 2012 election. Another current problem is the way proof of registration receipts are administered. The only existing form of receipt provided by DPS is located on the customer’s temporary paper license. On the form, in small print, it indicates whether or not that person registered to vote when renewing or registering for a license. The majority of people discard this form once they receive their actual license, therefore discarding the evidence that they registered to vote. This means they will not be eligible to vote if for some reason they do not receive their certificates of registration in the mail before elections or their names do not appear on the voting rolls. It would be beneficial to create a more formal receipt to give DPS customers who registered. 54
Bruce Elfant and Dee Lopez, (Travis County Voter Registrar and Director), interview by Emily Pendleton, "Travis County Voter Registrar Meeting Report," May 30, 2013.
V. HIGH SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS DISREGARD RESPONSIBILITY
Young adults persistently rank lowest when comparing voter turnout by age group. In the 2012 general election, 50 percent of citizens between ages 18 to 29 voted nationally. This was 8.7 percent lower than the voter turnout of all eligible voters. 55 These figures demonstrate the necessity for stronger youth outreach. As citizens turn 18, high schools across the state are a critical resource for registering newly eligible voters. Statistical analysis helped gather and assess the information regarding student registration practices from schools across Texas. There are over 1,000 school districts throughout Texas and over 1,150 public high schools. Through the Texas Education Agency, TCRP was able to obtain a listing of all public high schools and districts within Texas. The data included contact information for each principal and superintendent. For this report, TCRP generated three samples in which to collect survey data. The first sample consisted of 75 random high schools across the state. High schools were chosen at random using the excel software ‘randbetween’ function, which assigned random numbers to every high school. We proceeded to sort the random numbers, selecting only the first 75 schools that appeared as to avoid bias of the schools selected to receive our survey. The second sample was generated using the same process as the first, with the information provided for the districts across Texas. 75 school districts were selected at random. For the final sample, we used data provided by the Nation Center for Education Statistics (NCES) website. NCES data is based on 2010 census results and reports on the demographic make up of each school district. TCRP took the numbers supplied by the NCES School District Demographic System to look at each school district separately to determine total numbers of Hispanic and African American student population under age 18. These numbers were then used to find an accurate representation of the minority student population within the district. Each district’s minority population total was then compared to the total white population u nder the age of 18. If the minority population outnumbered the white population by a ratio greater than 2:1, then all schools within that district were eligible for the final sample. Once we attainted all
Pillsbury, George and Julian Johannesen. “America Goes to the Polls 2012: A Report on Voter Turnout in the 2012 Election.” NonprofitVOTE.org. March 11, 2013. http://www.nonprofitvote.org/doc_view/504-america-goes-to-the-polls-2012.
minority-populated schools with a ratio greater than 2 minority students to every 1 white student, the first 75 schools were selected at random using the same method as the first two samples. Each of the school’s principals, and each of the district’s superintendents received a copy of the survey (Appendix B and C). The questionnaires were administered four times via email during the months of June, July, and August of 2013 through Google Forms. Those of which had yet to respond by mid-August, were mailed a printed form. The results from the survey distributed to high schools throughout the state indicate that Texas schools, more often than not, are neglecting their statutory duty to promote voter participation among young people. The responsibilities of Texas high schools with regard to student voter registration are clearly set out in the Texas Election Code. Chief among these responsibilities is the task of distributing voter registration forms to all eligible students at least twice a school year. 56 Of the superintendents responding to the TCRP survey on behalf of their districts, only 22 percent reported that high schools within their districts are distributing voter registration applications at least twice a year; 38 percent served in districts where applications are distributed only once a year, and 41 percent stated that they never distribute them. The survey results from principals who responded on behalf of their high schools indicate that 37 percent of Texas high schools are distributing voter registration applications at least twice a year; 39 percent reported distributing them once a year, while 23 percent never distribute applications to students. Both district-wide and individual high school samples reveal that about two thirds of high schools in Texas are not meeting the minimum requirement mandated by the Texas Election Code. A compilation of the results by district and individual school responses can be seen in the School Survey Response Map following the end of this section. Those high schools that are registering students to vote conduct the registration process in a variety of different ways. Roughly 50 percent of all samples reported that government teachers most commonly carry out the task. This is arguably the most effective means of student registration, because it gives schools the ability to best incorporate voter registration and the importance of civic engagement into the students’ curriculums. Currently, all that is required of government teachers by Texas Education Agency standards is to inform students about their
Texas Election Code §13.046.
right and civic duty to become registered and how they might go about doing that. The administration of registration forms by government teachers, however, is not mandatory. The second most common manner of supplying voter registration applications is by making them available at the school’s front office or similar location, as reported by roughly 30 percent of all samples. Approximately 10 percent of all samples reported that they never formally administer applications, but make them available on request. A small number of schools will distribute registration cards at events, such as pep rallies. Dedication to voter registration across Texas high schools unfortunately varies a great deal. While some schools take field trips to the polls and invite candidates to speak on campus, others ignore the process entirely. Even schools that do participate in student voter registration often fail to adhere to state laws that could affect the successful approval of registration applications. One critical, yet frequently ignored, registration guideline under Section 13.042 of the Election Code. It requires that all applications must be transferred to the county voter registrar within five days of completion. Of the schools reporting that they conduct voter registration at least once a year, only 56 percent state that applications are submitted within the mandated time frame. Failure to adhere to this provision could prevent students from successfully registering. High schools have also been failing to provide voter registrants with receipts upon completion of their applications, despite the fact that this is too legally required. 57 Of the high schools that distribute applications at least once a year, only 32 percent are providing receipts to student applicants. Receipts serve the important function of acknowledging that students submitted applications before the registration deadline and provide proof of registration if applications are lost when being transferred to the county voter registrar. If one’s attempt at registration is unsuccessful, a receipt guarantees an individual a provisional ballot. The lack of initiative to register high school students appears to be a statewide issue. It is unclear whether or not any particular racial or geographical demographics are disproportionately affected. In a survey distributed to majority-minority populated schools in Texas, 61 percent of schools reported distributing voter registration applications at least twice a year, compared to majority-white schools, of which only 37 percent reported doing so. It is possible that schools with large minority populations are putting greater effort into voter registration because they are more conscious of voter suppression in the state. However, due to their low response rate to the
survey, it is difficult to determine whether or not voter registration laws in majority-minority high schools are actually more commonly implemented than in their majority-white counterparts. Texas high school principals who have responded to the survey commonly indicated that they were unaware of state laws regarding student voter registration. This is particularly troubling, as their position requires that they either become or appoint a volunteer deputy registrar for their school, as stipulated under Section 13.046 of the Texas Election Code. According to the Director of the Elections Division for the Texas Secretary of State, Keith Ingram, high school principals are reminded of their duties with regard to voter registration via email once per year, which may explain why many schools only conduct registration once annually. This form of outreach is only heightened during election periods. Ingram notes that it is normal for inexperienced high school administrators to be unaware of their responsibilities when there is no upcoming election. Ingram has stated that he has little authority when it comes to enforcing such laws. Therefore, their implementation relies on the knowledge and motivation of high school administrators. Student voter registration will only increase once a central authority takes responsibility for educating high school administrators and enforcing the Texas Election Code.
SCHOOL DISTRICT SURVEY RESPONSE MAP
VI. LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS RESPONSES: DISSATISFIED WITH COOPERATION FROM HIGH SCHOOLS The League of Women Voters of Texas is a nonpartisan organization that formed in San Antonio in 1919. In its early days, the League worked to help give newly enfranchised women access to the polls, and did not support any political candidate. Over the years, the League has fought to eliminate obstacles to the polls and expand voter rights to all citizens. Recently, the League has pursued its goal of encouraging “informed and active participation in government” by conducting “Get Out the Vote” campaigns in Texas high schools. Section 13.046 of the Texas Election Code requires high school principals or their designee to “at least twice each school year…distribute an officially prescribed registration application form to each student who is or will be 18 years of age or older during that year.” Despite this law, the majority of principals do not actively participate in registering students to vote. In attempts to correct this situation, the League has found outright hostility by principals and school districts toward their voter drive efforts in high schools. In 2012, the Austin chapter of the League took on a project focusing on ten local Title I high schools. Title I schools are those which have a student poverty rate of at least 40%. The state provides these schools with funding to supplement instruction for students who are economically disadvantaged or at risk for failing to meet state standards. Economics, not political motivation, drove the League to target Title I schools. Austin League’s efforts and funding focus on schools that would otherwise not have voter registration opportunities. The schools with the greatest need tend to be those with higher minority populations. Based on prior experience with high schools, the League opted not to hold the voter drives during lunch because the students were unresponsive at that time. Instead, they held meetings with the students during class times, during which teachers would bring the students to the library or a similar location for an informational lecture on registration and the election process. Of the ten Austin high schools visited, only one, Crockett High School, responded enthusiastically to the League’s efforts to register students. Most of the other schools were unresponsive to efforts to hold drives there. Further, many high school students lacked essential information needed to register, such as a driver’s license number or a social security number. Even though they were asked to be prepared with that information through posters and teacher announcements, 90% of the students lacked the proper paperwork to register to vote. As in Austin, the success of the League’s student registration efforts in Dallas County
varied greatly from school to school. The League found that the success of voter drives hinged on the attitude of the principal in each high school. Principals who understood their responsibility and appreciated the importance of registering their students were more receptive to the League’s efforts. In the past, the Dallas chapter found that Dallas ISD did not put a high priority on student registration, and was unresponsive to any organization attempting to visit high schools to register students. Additionally, the Dallas chapter found the best way to incentivize students to register is through effective communication. Giving students accurate and positive messages about voting increased the number of students who believe in the importance of registering and voting. Such communication increased the number of students registering and ultimately voting. In Irving ISD, the local chapter of the League had no success holding voter drives in the district’s two high schools; but it met success with voter registration in the local community colleges. The League continues to have good relations with student associations within the community colleges in which it has held voter registration drives. In the cities and counties surrounding Dallas, the League faced many difficulties registering students at high schools. The League did not conduct voter drives in either Denton County or Arlington high schools. Instead, registration was left up to government class teachers. The Denton County chapter of the League hopes to conduct voter drives in at least some high schools during Spring of 2014. In Collin County, the League only had slightly more success registering students. Of the three high schools in Plano, two responded to the League’s efforts to hold voter drives. However, this produced limited results because the League was only allowed to conduct drives during lunch periods and, consequently, collected a total of merely five registration cards from both schools combined. In rural areas, such as Smith County, public high schools are completely unwilling to conduct voter drives with outside groups. In Tyler, the League was barred from entering the two public high schools to register students. Instead, the school district depended on the system of using government teachers to conduct voter information and registration sessions with students. Tyler ISD was unwilling to collaborate with the League of Women Voters because of concern that doing so would open the door to admitting “other groups” to the campuses. In speaking with recent Tyler ISD high school graduates, it became apparent to the League that some faculty members do not take their voter registration duties seriously and that
many students did not even know they could have registered. One government teacher, perhaps unaware of her district’s policy, contacted the League directly to set up a registration date during lunch period at her school. Even though the students enthusiastically responded to the League’s voter registration efforts, the government teacher who organized the event with the league was reprimanded for her actions.
VII. ELECTIONS DIRECTOR KEITH INGRAM: A. SUMMARY OF INTERVIEW Keith Ingram, director for the Texas Elections Division, is tasked with the somewhat vague role of overseeing the division in carrying out the role of the Secretary of State as Chief Elections Officer. Mr. Ingram manages the four sections of the elections division, coordinates communication between the elections officials around the state regarding election law interpretation and application, as well as serving as a resource to legislature. Mr. Ingram met with several TCRP interviewers to discuss concerns raised from researching information for this report. Of primary concern to the interviewers was the failure of state agencies to adhere to their duties under the Texas Election code to ask clients if they wanted to register to vote. In addition to asking about enforcement under the code, a substantial amount of time was spent discussing the Volunteer Deputy Registrars and their role in elections. Several weeks prior to meeting with Mr. Ingram, TCRP sent a copy of the interview questions and concerns for his review. The questions posed addressed areas of concern that TCRP identified after conducting research on compliance with the Election Code. Here is a brief synopsis of the information gathered during the interview: There is not a way to enforce the Texas Election Code. The Texas Legislature has not granted power to enforce the duties mandated under the Election Code. Therefore, if an entity bound by the code does not follow it, the Elections Division is unable to sanction such failures. The public is tasked with holding entities accountable under the Texas Election Code by filing complaints when issues arise. The Elections Division does use a complaint process through which grievances may be filed and sent to the appropriate party. When an issue arises regarding the failure to adhere to a section of the code that carries a crime, the complaint will be sent to the Attorney General for investigation. The Elections Division prioritizes its outreach efforts toward local elected officials rather than the public. Ingram relies on local officials to disseminate information to the public regarding voting and elections. There is no real campaign through the media or otherwise to educate the public about elections or voting generally and encourage people to vote; nor is there any apparent outreach to Texas’ many minority language communities.
High school administrations receive minimal outreach as to their duty under the Texas Election Code. Mr. Ingram sends one or two emails a year, reminding principals of their duty to become deputized or to appoint a volunteer deputy registrar in their place, but does not follow up.
Voter outreach materials are primarily printed in Spanish and English. Each county must publish all outreach materials in both Spanish and English. Harris County additionally translates its materials to Chinese and Vietnamese. Although Mr. Ingram reported that new voter ID materials are printed in all four languages, the Texas voting website and Secretary of State website only make available the Spanish and English materials. The State Bar of Texas currently makes materials available in ten languages, 58 this raises the question as to why the Secretary cannot do so with regard to something far more important, the right to vote.
The Division spends a large amount of resources on sorting duplicate registrations. Switching to an electronic system would be beneficial for determining whether someone needs to re-register and could otherwise help decrease the number of duplicate registrants.
Deputization of volunteer deputy voter registrars serves an important purpose in maintaining the integrity of the elections process and so any hardship created by establishing such a role is outweighed by the pubic good. The Division only has authority to issue directives regarding minimum requirements for training deputy voter registrars. Each county can decide for itself how to implement the directives.
Mr. Ingram has no concerns that the changes to the Voting Rights Act will result in regressive practices in Texas. He has not received any complaints since the change of the law and does not plan to track any changes in polling practice.
The role of Elections Division Director is vague and ambiguous to both the public and Mr. Ingram himself. The lack of enforcement authority of the Texas Election Code begs the question of why a
code exists. In general, Mr. Ingram did not share TCRP’s concerns regarding the areas where entities fall short of their duty under the code. Notwithstanding, TCRP has suggested
The State Bar’s website provides translations in English, Arabic, Chinese (simplified), German, Hindi, Italian, Korean, Spanish, Urdu, and Vietnamese. www.texasbar.com.
recommendations to implement to help protect Texans’ voting rights. It is clear from the research and subsequent discussions with elections officials that, while the Election Code purports to protect voting rights in Texas, implementation of the code is lacking in effectiveness. B. FOLLOW UP TO INTERVIEW WITH KEITH INGRAM 1. The Effect of the Voter ID Law After TCRP’s interview with Keith Ingram, we met with Bruce Elfant , the Travis County tax assessor and voter registrar. In that meeting we learned that 37,000 registered Travis County voters have been identified as not having valid state issued identification. Statewide, Mr. Elfant estimates that there are 600,000-700,000 registered voters who do not have valid, state issued identification. This figure was calculated by cross checking the voter registration information with DPS data files, showing that these voters don’t have a valid driver’s license or personal ID. Mr. Elfant believes it is very unlikely these voters have an alternative form of identification, such as a passport; however, it is slightly more likely that they will have a military identification. Due to poor planning by the legislature that resulted in budgetary restraints, the Secretary of State was unable to send notifications of ineligibility to vote to the 37,000 disenfranchised voters. This is a failure of the legislature for not accounting for this issue while planning for the implementation of the voter ID laws. To make up for this shortfall, Travis County plans to mail out postcards to notify the 37,000 ineligible voters, however, the timeline for that is still being decided and postcards won’t be sent out till after the upcoming election. The postc ards will provide information about alternate forms of identification that can be used as a voter ID, and also their options if they are disabled or over 65. In his interview, Ingram stated that their office had not yet received any complaints or comments from concerned citizens regarding the voter ID law. He also stated that the office had no concerns about the invalidation of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Recently, Ingram received a letter from a concerned citizen. When she expressed her concern about having to sign an affidavit swearing that she was the same person that her ID identified her as, even though the names on her registration and ID were slightly different, Ingram responded with the following: As you may know, the legislature passed SB-14 in the 82nd legislative session. Prior to the passage of that bill, a voter like yourself or my mother with a maiden name discrepancy between their approved voter identification and the official list of registered voters did not result in having to sign an affidavit. You and my mother were allowed to sign in and vote without any issue. However, SB-14 changed the law in one important respect. An amendment to the bill in the Texas Senate was offered by Senator Wendy Davis from Fort Worth. This amendment
required persons whose name was not an exact match but was “substantially similar” to sign an affidavit that they were the same person and be allowed to cast a ballot.59 Ingram failed to mention that the original version of the Republican backed bill provided no recourse for voters whose name on their ID’s did not match the rolls. Despite Ingram’s cavalier attitude and general lack of concern that the voter ID law would negatively impact Texans, precincts around Texas reported that as many as one in five voters had to sign affidavits because of mismatches in names. 60 2. Accessibility of Texas Voting Outreach Materials The Secretary of State official website is crucial in making voting information accessible to the public. It is important that citizens of all language backgrounds be able to easily find and understand voting instructions. While Harris County translates its printed outreach materials to four languages, the website for Texas’ Secretary of State office is currently only available in English and Spanish. 61 This is so despite the fact that a substantial amount of speakers of other languages reside in the state. Other commonly spoken languages are Vietnamese, Chinese, and Hindi, yet they are not available on the website. When compared to other states, Texas is often less inclusive with regard to speakers of other languages. For instance, California’s Secretary of State website may be read in English, Spanish, Japanese, Hindi, Khmer, Korean, Filipino, Thai, and Vietnamese. 62 New York’s offers English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Russian, Italian, Haitian Creole, and Korean, and provides additional language interpretation upon request.63 Mr. Ingram is disillusioned as to the reality of access to voting in Texas. This is indicative of the overall tone of policy makers, elected officials, and department leaders. Not only does Texas fail to properly outreach young voters in high school and English as Second Language Learners, social service departments that are mandated to outreach clients for voter registration, are often failing to meet their duty. Section VII discusses this issue in detail
Zachary Roth, “Texas: Blame Wendy Davis or voting hassles,” MSNBC, November 18, 2013. http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/texas-blame-wendy-davis-voting-hassles
59 60 61 62
Ibid. “Texas Secretary of State John Steen,” Texas Secretary of State Office, http://www.sos.state.tx.us.
“California Secretary of State Debra Bowen,” California Secretary of State Office, http://www.sos.ca.gov.
of State,” New York Secretary of State Office, http://www.dos.ny.gov.
VIII. PUBLIC AGENCIES FAIL THEIR LEGAL DUTY ASSISTANCE TO PATRONS
PROVIDE VOTER REGISTRATION
A. Public Agencies Have Duty to Provide Voter Registration Assistance to Patrons Section 20 of the Texas Election Code designates voter registration agencies and outlines the duty of such agencies to provide voter registration materials and assistance in completing the registration.64 Although outlined in the Election Code, a great discrepancy exists between services mandated and services provided. The code specifically mandates several state agencies to serve as voter registration agencies: Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC); Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS); Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS); Department of State Health Services (DSHS); Department of Public Safety (DPS); Public libraries; and, Marriage license offices. 65
Public libraries, Department of Public Safety, and marriage license offices are each regulated by additional sections of the code. While the code specifically lists the above agencies, the Secretary of State may deem any other agency or department that primarily provides public assistance or service to persons with disabilities as a voter registration agency. 66 B. The Texas Election Code Mandates Specific Voter Registration Services by Designated Agencies The Texas Election Code requires that voter registration agencies notify clients and potential clients of the opportunity to register to vote upon application for services to the agency. 67 Following notification, if a client or prospective client then requests to register to vote,
64 65 66 67
Tex. Elec. Code §20.001. Ibid. Ibid. §20.001(a)(5). Ibid. §20.032.
the agency is required to provide a voter registration form: either the official version or an agency-created form approved by the Secretary of State.68 If the agency customarily processes applications, re-certifications, or other services over the phone or via mail, the agency must deliver notification of the opportunity to register to vote and voter registration forms in the same manner. Information about how to file the application form should be included with the application or notification of opportunity to register. 69 Designated voter registration agencies should not make determinations of eligibility of potential voters unless such determination can be made using information provided to the agency for services. Registration forms should be provided, even if the agency representative is unsure of eligibility. 70 When a client declines to register to vote, agencies should receive declinations in writing and file this document for 22 months. 71 This provision does not apply to public libraries, the Department of Public Safety, and marriage license offices. C. Additional Duties for DPS and Marriage License Offices In addition to the provisions described thus far, DPS and marriage license offices have additional duties. The DPS is required to combine the voter registration form with DPS services applications.72 Any applicant for a driver’s license, ID card, duplicate or corrected license or ID should be provided an opportunity to register to vote. If applied for via mail, a voter’s registration form should accompany any DPS application materials in the mail. 73 At the end of each business day, DPS must deliver hard copies of the completed voter registration cards and email the names of everyone who registered to the Secretary of State. 74 When marriage license offices send married couples their original marriage licenses after being recorded, the county clerk must also deliver by mail two voter registration forms. The
68 69 70 71 72 73 74
Ibid. §20.002. Ibid. §20.037. Ibid. §20.006. Ibid. §20.036. Ibid. §20.062. Ibid. §20.063. Ibid. §20.066.
county clerk must also include, with the application forms, directions as to how to file the registration.75 D. Voter Registration Agencies Fail to Adhere to Duties Mandated by the Texas Election Code TCRP representatives questioned each voter registration agency designated by the Election Code with regards to provisions of voter registration services. Many were confused and had not heard of such requirements. The Health and Human Services Commission and the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services seemed clear about their duty and provide services consistent with the Code. However, all other agency representatives either lacked information regarding voter registration, or affirmed that they did not provide such services for clients. E. The Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) HHSC is one of the few designated voter registration agencies that appear to satisfy its duty of service under the Election Code. Prospective or current clients who apply for HHSC services are asked if they would like to register to vote. Additionally, the application form for HHSC services includes on it the option to register to vote. Completing the paperwork registers a person to vote. Although there are no receipts stating that an applicant has registered to vote, HHSC logs all registration responses for an undisclosed period of time. It is therefore possible that an applicant can gain access to some sort of registration confirmation. F. The Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) and the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Although the Election Code also specifically designates both DADS and DSHS as voter registration agencies, neither provides voter registration forms to their clients. DADS offered no firm answer regarding its compliance with voter registration duties under the Election Code. Conversations with DADS representatives lead us to believe that persons interested in registering to vote are referred to HHSC for registration and other services. The Ombudsman’s office at HHSC confirmed that all applicants for HHSC services are asked if they’d like to register to vote. The office could neither confirm nor deny that persons are referred to them for the purposes of registering to vote. For those who are referred to HHSC in
order to register, the extra steps required added barriers to obtaining voter registration and are unnecessary steps. G. The Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) The Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) field offices offer voter registration to all those who seek services. They use paper forms, which are mailed in once a week to the Elections Division of the Secretary of State’s office. Rec eipts are issued for those who register, however. DARS reports, though, that few people register at its offices. H. The Department of Public Safety (DPS) The Department of Public Safety provides many services to customers including the opportunity to register to vote and obtain voter ID’s. Despite clear mandate in the Election Code that voter registration agencies provide the same level of assistance for citizens when registering to vote as they do for helping citizens apply for services, 76 the extent of assistance provided to persons interested in registering to vote is unclear. Whether the Election Code addresses any of the additional duties of DPS also remains ambiguous. After several transfers over the phone, DPS representatives were unable to find someone who could provide more complete answers regarding the extent of adherence to the Code. In recent years, DPS has greatly improved its voter registration system by moving to an electronic format. When applying for DPS services, changing addresses or other information on DPS accounts, clients are asked if they would like to register to vote or update their registration. Upon answering affirmatively, their information is typed into an electronic database and into software that captures relevant registration information. After being compiled, the application is printed out and given to the registrant to review for typos. The application is then signed and scanned, creating an electronic signature file. The signature as well as the already entered data is then compiled and sent to the Elections office. 77 Once they register to vote, their information is recorded electronically and sent to the Elections Division. Keith Ingram, Elections Division Director, stated that the DPS electronic system is by far the best and most efficient reporting
Ibid. at §20.005.
Project Vote, “Texas Automates Voter Registration at the Drivers License Offices,” Accessed December 4, 2013, http://www.projectvote.org/blog/2010/05/texas-automates-voter-registration-at-thedriver-license-offices.
system in the State, and would like to streamline this system for use with the other voter registration agencies. I. Marriage License Offices and Public Libraries Due to limited resources, marriage license offices and public libraries were not studied in depth for the purposes of this report. However, there were preliminary findings for services provided by Travis County. The Travis County Clerk’s office, which administers marriage licenses for the county, asks marriage license applicants if they would like to register to vote. In addition, it deputizes volunteers who help register voters. All registrations collected are sent by mail to the county Voter Registrar every few days. However, receipts are only given if the person registers with a volunteer, not within the office itself. Few Travis County libraries were contacted. However, from those contacted, it is apparent that the practice of each library that register voters differs between library systems and sometimes even between branches. Therefore, without extensive statistical analysis, any assumption regarding whether libraries meet their duty as voter registration agencies would be just that, an assumption. The research has led us to believe, however, that libraries and marriage license offices contribute minimally to the voter registration. J. Conclusion In some cases, voter registration agencies fail to meet their duty under the Election Code. Some agencies do not provide voter registration cards, while others lack consistency as to whether registration cards are dispersed, depending on the agent working at the time. Employees of some agencies are not even aware of their duty to register voters. In a recent meeting with Elections Division Director Keith Ingram, 78 it became apparent that, although Texas has a code governing voter registration, no official possesses the authority to enforce the code. While expressing concern about whether voter registration agencies like DADS and DSHS are upholding their duties under the Act, Mr. Ingram stated he had no enforcement power and limited resources. As a result, when agencies, like DADS and DSHS, are not performing their specified duty, there is no recourse. Additionally, where agencies are providing and accepting voter registration cards, there is a certain amount of paperwork and resources spent on managing the paperwork. Ingram
See Appendix C, Keith Ingram (Director of Elections) interview by Emily Pendleton, Lane Kazmierski, and Whitney Knox. September 18, 2013.
expressed his frustration that the state is “over -doing it” by encouraging and sometimes requiring people to re-register at each agency where they are applying for services at. The extent to which Ingram’s cr itique is unclear, the suggestion that he implies, to streamline electronic registration, is the right direction that we should go. Using paper registration forms makes it impossible for service providers at voter registration agencies to know, in real time, whether someone is already registered to vote. For this reason, Mr. Ingram hopes to move the entire voter registration system to an electronic system. Because it is unclear what concrete steps Ingram has taken to reach the goal of streamlining the electronic system, it is also unclear whether such a goal can be accomplished. The lack of assertiveness and leadership on the part of the Secretary of State and officials under him further adds to the problem of barriers in voter registration. While aware of the challenges Texas faces in ensuring that each eligible citizen is registered to vote because of gaps in policy and virtually zero enforcement mechanisms, Mr. Ingram coolly shifted the responsibility of advocating for policy reform onto citizens. He explained that it is up to us as voters to sway our legislature regarding such issues as policy reform. Their lack of accountability and responsibility was not comforting to hear the second highest-ranked state election official. Even so, such a response should not have been surprising considering overall confusion surrounding the function of the Elections Director position. The Texas Election Code is in place to guarantee protection of voting rights to citizens. Without enforcement, some of the agencies will fail to meet their duty. With mounting confusion regarding voting procedures, Texas cannot afford to fail in this area.
IX. VOLUNTEER DEPUTY VOTER REGISTRARS: LACKING IN UNIFORMITY AND HAPHAZARD: In order to encourage voter registration, county registrars may legally appoint volunteer deputy registrars (VDRs).79 VDRs have the same authority as the county registrar to record voters.80 They are tasked with collecting completed voter registration cards and returning them to the county registrar.81 The Secretary of State creates minimum training requirements to deputize voter registrars. However, procedural deputization requirements are left up to the individual counties.82 Because of the lack of procedural standards, deputization procedures vary greatly across counties. As a result, instead of aiding in the overall voter registration process, deputization ironically has become an obstacle in many counties. Minimum deputization requirements were imposed in 1985. The legislature’s rationale was that an individual’s right to vote is so fundamental that safeguards must be in place to prevent the abuse of that right. At the time, the belief was that the deputization process would encourage voter registration. However, the current decentralized patchwork of deputization procedures actually has become a hindrance to voter registration across the state. Many counties schedule certain training dates throughout the month on which to train and deputize citizens. On these dates, citizens can learn about VDR rights and responsibilities. The number of days when trainings are offered varies greatly among counties. Some counties have training on the third Tuesday of each month; others, on the second Thursday of the month. Some counties offer trainings every other week on a Monday, and still others hold trainings once a week. In fact, some counties have instituted procedures allowing people to become deputized at any time during business hours. Similarly, there are counties that do not schedule trainings at all, unless a minimum number of people request training. There is great variance as to how counties make deputization trainings known to the public. Some counties publish the training notice well in advance, either on the internet or in the local newspaper. Others do not set a date until a week or two before the actual training, which requires participants to call in a week before to find out the time and date of the training session. Further, we discovered that many counties have no procedures for deputization. Some
79 80 81 82
Tex. Elec. Code §13.031. Ibid. §12.006. Ibid. §13.042. Ibid. §13.047.
county registrars actually did not even know what a VDR was. These counties were usually in the rural areas. When contacted, these counties indicated they did not know about VDRs, let alone the Secretary of State’s minimum requirements. They typically resp onded by saying they would have to research the process and call back. Under the Texas Election Code, a person who becomes deputized in one county may become deputized in another county without having to undergo additional training, at the latter county’s discretion. Lack of knowledge about this provision is widespread. Some counties allow automatic deputization upon showing of one’s certificate from another county, while other counties mandate a VDR from another county to complete that county’s specific t raining course to become deputized. This hodgepodge of deputization procedures is an impediment to voter registration. Depending on where they live, individuals, who want to become deputized in their home county, might have to wait weeks if they are in a county where the registrar only deputizes once a month. If they want to be deputized in another county, they may have to travel a long distance for the certification and run into the same infrequent training sessions. Moreover, individuals, who want to become deputized in a county next to their home county, will face myriads of obstacles. They would have to find out which counties will honor a certificate from their home county and which would require additional training as part of its deputization procedures. They would need to visit the county for the training. This could take weeks or months to accomplish. Also, on December 31 of even-numbered years, VDRs appointments expire. 83 Therefore, on January 1, every two years, an individual must go through this whole ordeal again. Consequently, individuals wanting to go to multiple counties around the state to register voters could spend hours on the phone with the voter registrar of each county, register for sessions in each county requiring training, and then physically travel to each individual county at the specific time it offers training. Further, many cities extend into multiple counties. Parts of Austin lie within neighboring Hays and Williamson Counties. Therefore, individuals who want to register voters all through Austin would have to become deputized in those counties besides Travis County. Hays County does not accept deputization certificates from other counties. Individuals would have to complete one of the training courses held once a month in order to register Austinites who live in Hays
County. Likewise, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston all extend into multiple counties. Individuals who want to register citizens in those cities for local elections would have to become deputized in the neighboring counties; and, if those counties do not accept certificates from other counties, they would have to take the county’s training course. In an interview with Texas Elections Director Keith Ingram, TCRP expressed concern regarding the deputization process, and brainstormed possible remedies. Mr. Ingram explained the decentralized state system of government set up in the Texas Constitution after the Civil War would make any sweeping remedy to deputization obstacles very difficult because, in his view, the deep mistrust of executive power resulted in a situation where the power resided in the counties. TCRP suggested that, as a remedy, the state elections department might promulgate standard procedural rules for the counties. Mr. Ingram took the position that, even if there were such standards, there is no enforcement mechanism for the state over whether the counties abided by the regulations. Even though Mr. Ingram asserted it is not possible for a state entity to promulgate procedural rules for local officia ls to follow because of Texas’ decentralized governmental framework, there are examples of the state setting procedural rules for county officials. One example is that, when issuing a concealed handgun license to an individual, the state created substantive and procedural rules for local officials to follow. 84 The state requires the Department of Public Safety to forward application materials to the director’s designee in the applicant’s geographical area within 30 days. 85 Then, the local designee must complete a record check and investigation no later than the 60th day after application materials are received. 86 Thus, it is possible for the state to promulgate procedural rules for local county officials to follow. A. METHODOLOGY To gauge the deputization procedures around the state, TCRP called each region in Texas. We called Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and surrounding counties. Also, we called counties in rural areas such as West Texas and the Panhandle. The effort was to get an understanding of the state as a whole, and compare different areas and looking for patterns. Some counties were more responsive than others. For some, we spent a very time on the
84 85 86
Tex. Gov't Code §411.176. Ibid. Id.
phone learning their deputization procedures. For others, we spent considerable time on the phone and had to talk to multiple people before reaching a person who could help with voter information. For seven counties we called, the designated person with whom we were put in contact didn’t know the deputization process at all. Even worse, we were not ab le to get through to a person at all on this matter. B. MAPS
C. DEPUTY REGISTRAR TIMELINE In 1985, the 69th Texas Legislature passed Section 13.031 of the Texas Election Code, which requires citizens to become deputized in order to register voters. In the decades preceding this law, Texans began to see a reduction in stringency with regard to voting laws, largely due to national pressures. This trend began to emerge in the mid-1960s. For example, in 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that levying a poll tax violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. This measure increased voting access for Texa s’ marginalized citizens. In 1971, the 26th Amendment passed, reducing the voting age for all federal, state, and local elections to 18 years.
Texas had required that one must live in the state for a year to establish residency. In 1972, the residency requirement to participate in national elections was reduced to thirty days. 87 The 1985 law above marks Texas’ reversion to increased strictness with regard to voting laws. Section 13.031 of the Election Code stipulates that volunteer deputy registrars are to be appointed in order to register voters. An appointee must be eighteen years of age and serve for a term that expires on December 31 of even-numbered years. Since 1985, the Texas Legislature has repeatedly amended the law, making the voter registration process increasingly restrictive. The major hindrance facing volunteer deputy registrars (VDRs) lies in the increasing specificity of the Election Code. For example, the law was amended in 1987 to require VDRs to submit registration applications to the county registrar in person, rather than by mail. 88 A 1997 amendment prohibited VDRs from accepting applications from citizens of counties other than where they were appointed.89 As recently as 2011, an amendment passed, restricting volunteer deputy registrars from accepting compensation based on the number of registrations they facilitate.90 Due to the legal penalties that can result from the failure to comply with these changing statutes, many individuals have been deterred from registering voters. Wisconsin is the only other state to require volunteer registrars to be appointed by their local government. However, the state also allows same-day registration, which significantly lessens the need for third-party registrars.91 Texas is the most restrictive state in the union when it comes to voter registration. Volunteer deputy registrars and registration drives are vital components of the voting process. This is particularly true among underrepresented racial minorities, as census data indicates that African Americans and Latinos are most likely to register through voter registration drives conducted by volunteer deputy registrars. 92 By imposing greater requirements
Dave McNeely, “It's free, easy to vote in Texas but it wasn't always that way Series: CAMPAIGN '92,” Austin-American Statesman, October 30, 1992.
87 88 89 90 91
Texas Election Code §13.042. Ibid. §13.038. Ibid. §13.043. Wis. Stat. §6.15; Wis. Stat. §6.26. for Am., Inc. v. Andrade, 888 F.Supp.2d 816 (S.D. Tex. 2012).
on volunteer deputy registrars, the Texas Legislature undermines the election process and contributes to Texas’s low voter turnout.
ELECTION CODE EXCERPTS Sec. 12.006. REGULAR DEPUTY REGISTRARS. (a) The registrar may appoint one or more deputy registrars to assist in the registration of voters, subject to Subsection (e). (b) In this code, "regular deputy registrar" means a deputy registrar appointed under this section. (c) Except as provided by Subsection (d), a regular deputy registrar has the same authority as the registrar, subject to the registrar's supervision. (d) A regular deputy registrar may not hear or determine a challenge under this title. (e) To be eligible for appointment as a regular deputy registrar under this section, a person must meet the requirements to be a qualified voter under Section 11.002 except that the person is not required to be a registered voter. (f) A regular deputy registrar may not assist in the registration of voters until the deputy registrar has completed training developed under Section 13.047. At the time of appointment, the voter registrar shall provide information about the times and places at which training is offered. Sec. 13.031. APPOINTMENT; TERM. (a) To encourage voter registration, the registrar shall appoint as deputy registrars persons who volunteer to serve. (b) In this code, "volunteer deputy registrar" means a deputy registrar appointed under this section. (c) Volunteer deputy registrars serve for terms expiring December 31 of even-numbered years. (d) To be eligible for appointment as a volunteer deputy registrar, a person must: (1) be 18 years of age or older; (2) not have been finally convicted of a felony or, if so convicted, must have: (A) fully discharged the person's sentence, including any term of incarceration, parole, or supervision, or completed a period of probation ordered by any court; or (B) been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disability to vote; and (3) meet the requirements to be a qualified voter under Section 11.002 except that the person is not required to be a registered voter. (d) To be eligible for appointment as a volunteer deputy registrar, a person must: (1) be 18 years of age or older;
(2) not have been finally convicted of a felony or, if so convicted, must have: (A) fully discharged the person's sentence, including any term of incarceration, parole, or supervision, or completed a period of probation ordered by any court; or (B) been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disability to vote; and (3) not have been finally convicted of an offense under Section 32.51, Penal Code. (e) A volunteer deputy registrar appointed under this section may not receive another person's registration application until the deputy registrar has completed training developed under Section 13.047. At the time of appointment, the voter registrar shall provide information about the times and places at which training is offered. Sec. 13.038. POWERS GENERALLY. A volunteer deputy registrar may distribute voter registration application forms throughout the Sec. 13.040. ISSUANCE OF RECEIPT. (a) On receipt of a completed registration application, a volunteer deputy registrar shall prepare a receipt in duplicate on a form furnished by the registrar. (b) The receipt must contain: (1) the name of the applicant and, if applicable, the name of the applicant's agent; and (2) the date the completed application is submitted to the volunteer deputy. (c) The volunteer deputy shall sign the receipt in the applicant's presence and shall give the original to the applicant. (d) The volunteer deputy shall deliver the duplicate receipt to the registrar with the registration application. The registrar shall retain the receipt on file with the application. (e) The secretary of state may prescribe a procedure that is an alternative to the procedure prescribed by this section that will ensure the accountability of the registration applications. Sec. 13.042. DELIVERY OF APPLICATION TO REGISTRAR. (a) A volunteer deputy registrar shall deliver in person, or by personal delivery through another designated volunteer deputy, to the registrar each completed voter registration application submitted to the deputy, as provided by this section. The secretary of state shall prescribe any procedures necessary to ensure the proper and timely delivery of completed applications that are not delivered in person by the volunteer deputy who receives them. (b) Except as provided by Subsection (c), an application shall be delivered to the registrar not later than 5 p.m. of the fifth day after the date the application is submitted to the volunteer deputy registrar.
(c) An application submitted after the 34th day and before the 29th day before the date of an election in which any qualified voter of the county is eligible to vote shall be delivered not later than 5 p.m. of the 29th day before election day. Sec. 13.043. FAILURE TO DELIVER APPLICATION. (a) A volunteer deputy registrar commits an offense if the deputy fails to comply with Section 13.042. (b) Except as provided by Subsection (c), an offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor. (c) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor if the deputy's failure to comply is intentional. Sec. 13.046. HIGH SCHOOL DEPUTY REGISTRARS. (a) Each principal of a public or private high school or the principal's designee shall serve as a deputy registrar for the county in which the school is located. (b) In this code, "high school deputy registrar" means a deputy registrar serving under this section. (c) A high school deputy registrar may distribute registration application forms to and receive registration applications submitted to the deputy in person from students and employees of the school only. (d) At least twice each school year, a high school deputy registrar shall distribute an officially prescribed registration application form to each student who is or will be 18 years of age or older during that year, subject to rules prescribed by the secretary of state. (e) Each application form distributed under this section must be accompanied by a notice informing the student or employee that the application may be submitted in person or by mail to the voter registrar of the county in which the applicant resides or in person to a high school deputy registrar or volunteer deputy registrar for delivery to the voter registrar of the county in which the applicant (f) Except as provided by this subsection, Sections 13.039, 13.041, and 13.042 apply to the submission and delivery of registration applications under this section, and for that purpose, "volunteer deputy registrar" in those sections includes a high school deputy registrar. A high school deputy registrar may review an application for completeness out of the applicant's presence. A deputy may deliver a group of applications to the registrar by mail in an envelope or package, and, for the purpose of determining compliance with the delivery deadline, an application delivered by mail is considered to be delivered at the time of its receipt by the registrar. (g) A high school deputy registrar commits an offense if the deputy fails to comply with Section 13.042. An offense under this subsection is a Class C misdemeanor unless the deputy's failure to comply is intentional, in which case the offense is a Class A misdemeanor. (h) The secretary of state shall prescribe any additional procedures necessary to implement this section. . Sec. 13.047. TRAINING STANDARDS FOR DEPUTY REGISTRARS. (a) The secretary of state shall: (1) adopt standards of training in election law relating to the registration of voters;
(2) develop materials for a standardized curriculum for that training; and (3) distribute the materials as necessary to each county voter registrar. (b) The training standards may include the passage of an examination at the end of a training program. Sec. 20.001. DESIGNATION OF VOTER REGISTRATION AGENCIES (a) The following state agencies are designated as voter registration agencies: (1) Health and Human Services Commission; (2) Department of Aging and Disability Services; (3) Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services; (4) Department of State Health Services; and (5) any other agency or program as determined by the secretary of state that primarily provides: (A) public assistance; or (B) services to persons with disabilities. (b) The Department of Public Safety is designated as a voter registration agency. (c) Each public library, including any branch or other service outlet, is designated as a voter registration agency. In this chapter, "public library" means a library that: (1) is regularly open for business for more than 30 hours a week; (2) is operated by a single public agency or board; (3) is open without charge to all persons under identical conditions; and (4) receives its financial support wholly or partly from public funds. (d) Each marriage license office of the county clerk is designated as a voter registration agency. (e) The secretary of state shall designate other agencies or offices as voter registration agencies as necessary for compliance with federal law. Sec. 20.005. DEGREE OF ASSISTANCE. A voter registration agency shall provide the same degree of assistance, including any necessary bilingual assistance, to a person in completing a voter registration form as is provided to a person in completing the agency's forms, unless the assistance is refused. Sec. 20.006. DETERMINATION OF ELIGIBILITY.
(a) An employee of a voter registration agency may not make a determination about a person's eligibility for registration other than a determination of whether the person is of voting age or is a United States citizen. (b) A person's age or citizenship may be determined by the employee only if the age or citizenship can be readily determined from information filed with the agency by the person for purposes other than voter registration. (c) A person shall be offered voter registration assistance as provided by this chapter even if the person's age or citizenship cannot be determined. Sec. 20.032. REGISTRATION PROCEDURES. (a) An appropriate agency employee shall routinely inform each person who applies in person for agency services of the opportunity to complete a voter registration application form and on request shall provide nonpartisan voter registration assistance to the applicant. (b) An agency that provides services at a person's residence shall provide the opportunity to complete the form and the assistance under Subsection (a) at the residence. (c) On receipt of a registration application, the appropriate agency employee shall review it for completeness in the applicant's presence. If the application does not contain all the required information and the required signature, the agency employee shall return the application to the applicant for completion and resubmission. (d) Information regarding the agency or office to which an application is submitted is confidential and may be used only for voter registration purposes. Sec. 20.036. DECLINATION OF REGISTRATION. (a) If the applicant does not wish to complete a voter registration application form, the agency employee shall request that the applicant complete and sign an official declination of registration form unless the employee determines that the applicant has previously completed and signed the form. (b) If the applicant refuses to sign the declination form, the agency employee shall enter on the form a notation of that fact. (c) The agency shall preserve each declination for at least 22 months after the date of signing. The declination may be retained in the applicant's file at the agency or in a separate declination file. (d) A declination is confidential and may be used only for voter registration purposes. (e) The secretary of state shall prescribe the procedures necessary to eliminate the filing of multiple declinations by an applicant. Sec. 20.037. TELEPHONE OR MAIL SERVICES. (a) A voter registration agency that allows a person to apply for services by mail shall deliver to an applicant by mail a voter registration application form on the approval of services for the applicant. (b) An agency shall deliver to an applicant by mail a voter registration application form if:
(1) the agency automatically notifies an applicant to renew or recertify a service by mailing a form to the applicant; or (2) the applicant requests services by telephone and the agency provides services in that manner. (c) An application form delivered by mail must be accompanied by a notice informing the applicant that the application may be submitted in person or by mail to the voter registrar of the county in which the applicant resides or in person to a volunteer deputy registrar for delivery to the voter registrar of the county in which the applicant resides. (d) The agency may maintain a written record indicating that a registration application was delivered to an applicant. (e) The agency is not required to deliver a declination of registration form under this section. Sec. 20.062. DEPARTMENT FORMS AND PROCEDURE. (a) The Department of Public Safety shall prescribe and use a form and procedure that combines the department's application form for a license or card with an officially prescribed voter registration application form. (b) The department shall prescribe and use a change of address form and procedure that combines department and voter registration functions. The form must allow a licensee or cardholder to indicate whether the change of address is also to be used for voter (c) The design, content, and physical characteristics of the department forms must be approved by the secretary of state. Sec. 20.063. REGISTRATION PROCEDURES. (a) The Department of Public Safety shall provide to each person who applies in person at the department's offices for an original or renewal of a driver's license, a personal identification card, or a duplicate or corrected license or card an opportunity to complete a voter registration application form. (b) When the department processes a license or card for renewal by mail, the department shall deliver to the applicant by mail a voter registration application form. (c) A change of address that relates to a license or card and that is submitted to the department in person or by mail serves as a change of address for voter registration unless the licensee or cardholder indicates that the change is not for voter registration purposes. The date of submission of a change of address to a department employee is considered to be the date of submission to the voter registrar for the purpose of determining the effective date of registration only. (d) If a completed voter registration application submitted to a department employee does not include the applicant's correct driver's license number or personal identification card number, a department employee shall enter the appropriate information on the application. If a completed application does not include the applicant's correct residence address or mailing address, a department employee shall obtain the appropriate information from the applicant and enter the information on the application. Sec. 20.066. REGISTRATION PROCEDURES.
(a) If a person completes a voter registration application as provided by Section 20.063, the Department of Public Safety shall: (1) input the information provided on the application into the department's electronic data system; and (2) inform the applicant that the applicant's electronic signature provided to the department will be used for submitting the applicant's voter registration application. (b) Not later than the fifth day after the date a person completes a voter registration application and provides an electronic signature to the department, the department shall electronically transfer the applicant's voter registration data, including the applicant's signature, to the secretary of state. (c) The secretary of state shall prescribe additional procedures as necessary to implement this section. Sec. 20.122. REGISTRATION PROCEDURES. (a) When an original marriage license is returned to the licensees after being recorded, the county clerk shall also deliver to the licensees by mail two voter registration application forms. (b) The county clerk shall use the official form prescribed by the secretary of state. (c) The application forms must be accompanied by a notice informing the licensees that the applications may be submitted in person or by mail to the voter registrar of the county in which they reside or in person to a volunteer deputy registrar for delivery to the voter registrar of the county in which they reside. (d) The county clerk may maintain a written record indicating that a registration application was delivered to a licensee.
SURVEY INSTRUMENTS FOR HIGH SCHOOL COMPLIANCE
Texas Schools: Voter Registration Purpose: We are gathering information from schools across Texas to better understand student registration practices. We would appreciate you taking a few moments to answer these 8 questions. Thank you! Top of Form Name of school: * What is your school's average senior class size? *
o o o o o
1-150 students 150-300 students 300-450 students 450-600 students 600 or more students
How are voter registration applications administered to students? * Check all that apply
o o o o o
Made available to students (and faculty) at the front office or similar location Through government class teachers During large school functions ie. Pep Rally, Sporting Events, Fairs, etc.
We do not administer registration applications; they must be requested by the student (or faculty member) Other:
How often do you administer voter registration applications to students? *
o o o o
Never Once a school year Twice a school year Three or more times a school year
What is the title of the faculty member responsible for the intake and delivery (by mail or in person) of the registration applications to the county voter registrar? * Are receipts given to students who register? *
Upon receipt of voter registration applications, how frequently are the applications transferred to the county voter registrar? *
o o o o o
Within 5 days of receipt Within 10 days of receipt Within 15 days of receipt Within 30 days of receipt N/A
Is there any additional information you would like to include about your school's voter registration procedures?
Texas Districts: Voter Registration Purpose: We are gathering information from districts across Texas to better understand student registration practices. We would appreciate you taking a few minutes to answer these 7 questions. Thank you! Top of Form Name of District How are voter registration applications administered to students? Check all that apply
o o o o o
Made available to students (and faculty) at the front office or similar location Through government class teachers During large school functions ie. Pep Rally, Sporting Events, Fairs, etc.
We do not administer registration applications; they must be requested by the student (or faculty member) Other:
How often are schools within your district required to administer voter registration applications to students?
o o o o
Never Once a school year Twice a school year Three or more times a school year
What is the title of the faculty member typically responsible for the intake and delivery (by mail or in person) of the registration applications to the county voter registrar? Are receipts given to students who register?
Upon receipt of voter registration applications, how frequently are the applications transferred to the county voter registrar?
o o o o o
Within 5 days of receipt Within 10 days of receipt Within 15 days of receipt Within 30 days of receipt N/A
Is there any additional information you would like to include about your district's voter registration procedures?
INTERVIEW WITH KEITH INGRAM, TEXAS STATE ELECTIONS DIVISION DIRECTOR Date: 9/18/2013 Interviewees: Keith Ingram, State Elections Division Director, and Ashley Fischer, Legal Director Interviewers: Emily Pendleton, Lane Kazmierski, and Whitney Knox 1. What outreach and registration efforts does the Elections Division or Secretary of State’s office conduct, not only in English but Spanish, Vietnamese, and other languages? Harris County translates everything into Chinese and Vietnamese as well as Spanish. All counties must translate materials into Spanish. The voter ID bill materials are printed in all four languages.1 2. How does the Secretary of State’s office transfer registration information to the appropriate counties? Transfer of registration takes place primarily through the mail. The Spanish voter registration forms, as well as the forms that the voter registration agencies issue, all have return address to the Secretary of State’s office. The Department of Public Safety has instituted an electronic system where applicants are encouraged to register to vote online through their application process for DPS services. This information is sent electronically to the Elections Division. 3. What are the quality control measures that take place prior to registration transfer from the Secretary of State’s office to the appropriate county? The registration forms are coded and so when people turn in the form it is possible to track whether the form came from a Chapter 20 agency, 2 or elsewhere. They also know which agency registered the voters because they receive the information directly from the agencies.
After searching the voter ID outreach materials online, TCRP was only able to find these materials only in Spanish and English.
Chapter 20 agencies are agencies designated by Chapter 20 of the Texas Election Code as agencies that have a duty to register citizens to vote. See Texas Election Code §20.001.
Although the voting cards are coded, the Election Division does not track how many people are applying from which agencies because agencies swap forms. Therefore, there is no way to know when a person received the form, although it’s likely that they received the form from the coded agency. 4. What happens to the registration cards once the Elections Director receives them? Once the Elections Director receives the voter registration cards, they get sorted and sent to the appropriate county. 5. What are some of the biggest issues with voter registration procedures that the Secretary of State’s office has identified? The biggest issue is that State agencies spend a lot of time dealing with registrations for voters who are already registered. Dealing with duplications requires more legwork to sort out; this work could be substantially lessened through electronic registration systems. Health and Human Services Commission sends out 550,000 registration cards a month. “It’s overkill, we are doing too much already.” Another concern is that the Elections Division has no authority to enforce the Elections Code. After the Civil War, the government system in Texas was decentralized and authority over certain issues was given to local county governments. 6. How do you hold agencies accountable for turning in their registrations within the 5day timeline? And, if any, which push the deadline or are not doing it? What happens if the agency does not comply? There is no recourse for agencies that do not comply with the 5-day deadline. The legislature has not granted any policing power to the Division and so all that can be done is call to check in on agencies and encourage that they follow the law as outlined by the Texas Election Code. 7. How has the Elections Division budget diminished/increased over the last 5 years (2009-2014) and what are you currently focusing your funds on? There is no way for me to know because I have not been in office for the past five years. In 2011, the budget was reduced by 10%, since then it has been reduced another 5%. As a result we have less staff. Mr. Ingram was vague regarding budgeting for outreach but did say that they use the county election officials to reach voters. County election officials and other local officials are charged with knowing the information and disseminating it to the local voters. 8. Why does Texas require citizens to become deputized in order to administer and collect registration forms? Do you think this decreases the number of registered voters around the state?
Deputization of citizens came into effect in 1985. Texas has a County based voter registration, meaning this happens at the county level. Counties are responsible for their lists of voters. Volunteer deputy registrars (VDR) are the deputies serving on behalf of the voter registrar in the county. While anyone can pass out voter registration cards, VDR’s stand in the place of the registrar by accepting applications. Because the right to vote is important, and it’s been entrusted to a volunteer, Texas has decided it’s okay to give a higher responsibility to persons who are deputies. In addition to accepting voter registration cards, deputies answer questions voters have. The training requirement was a recent addition. 9. What would be the best way to go about increasing registered voter status among the high school student population? It might be beneficial to create a regulation under Texas Education Agency to require voter registration within a specific course curriculum. How would we go about doing that? Only regulation that TEA has is that government teachers have to discuss civic engagement in classes, there are no minimum standards. Mr. Ingram encouraged TCRP to communicate with TEA regarding voter registration in high schools. Ingram felt as Election Director he had no obligation to increase high school student registration. This statement is indicative of Ingram’s minimalistic approach to his role as Elections director. 10. As mentioned in the Election Code, the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), Department of State Health Services, Aging and Disabilities are all required to administer voter registration forms to citizens seeking benefits from these agencies. However, it has come to our attention that the Department of Aging and Disability Services as well as the Department of State Health Services redirects their clients to another agency rather than offering them a registration opportunity directly. Why is that? And with respect to the Election Code, shouldn’t they be providing this service? Mr. Ingram met with HHSC staff recently. They take their responsibility as a voter registration agency seriously. Any change of address or any other change triggers a new registration. In regards to DADS and DSHS, which send their clients to HHSC and DPS to register, this does not fulfill the agency duty of service under the Code. Mr. Ingram is clear that he has no authority to hold agencies to their duty. Nevertheless, he has appointments scheduled with DADS to discuss their practices. 11. Based on our current survey responses, it is apparent many schools (especially in rural areas) across Texas do not know about their obligation to administer voter registration cards to their students of age. We need this to be better known. How are schools currently informed of items addressed in the Election Code, Section 13.046? Majority of the outreach to high schools takes place during election periods. During those times, principals may get additional outreach regarding their duties. In general, Mr. Ingram emails principals once yearly to remind them of their duty to be deputized as well as their duty to administer voter registration forms to their students. Mock elections are held in some high
schools. There are also materials available on the website Texas.gov for high school principals and teachers. Teachers are not held accountable for their duties under the election code. Additionally, there is no follow up once the yearly email communication to schools has sent.
12. It is a major obstacle for citizens to become deputized. Within certain counties, the voter registrar only offers training sessions for large groups or at inconvenient times. Is it possible to regulate the opportunities for deputization across the state? What is the purpose for this statute? And why do citizens have to become deputized within each county instead of once for the entire state? Is there a way to strike uniformity and to be more frequent in deputization? Texas does not have statewide mandates on deputization. There are 254 counties, and each county uses a program that works for it. A one-size-fits-all program is not going to work. The state can issue directives and set minimum standards, which is what the state has done. Additionally, once a person has been deputized and gone through the training, that individual can take your certificate and go to another county to get deputized in both counties. Mr. Ingram encourages citizens to inform the Elections Division when counties are not meeting the minimum standards of VDR training. 13. What do you do to educate the individual County Voter Registrars of their minimum requirements to deputize volunteer deputy registrars? There are county elections seminars every year and webinars monthly to train Voter Registrars as to what to train VDR’s. 14. How do you think the Voters Rights Act decision (Shelby v. Holder) will affect voting in Texas? “Not sure…” the office has been under stress to make new laws effective. So far the office has not received any complaints or concerns about regressive practices. The VRA is still fully enforced and people are allowed to sue under it. a. Is the Elections Division monitoring or tracking any of the changes to election polls? Mr. Ingram stated this is “not our responsibility.” No complaints have been received and they do not intend to track complaints and changes to the polling practices. b. Is there a fear that counties may try and institute regressive tactics?
The office has no fear of there being regressive tactics implored. The county election officials take their jobs very seriously. Therefore Mr. Ingram does not think that there will be any intentional attempts to disenfranchise voters. The best leverage with the counties is that the counties want to get it right. If the county does not care, there is no leverage in getting uniformity.
15. What do you see your role is as the Elections Division Director? Mr. Ingram initially stated, “I don’t know.” After being prompted by the legal director, he said “my role is to implement responsibilities of the Secretary of State. I issue directives and educate the public. I am a resource for the legislatur e as to how the code works in real life. “
BIBLIOGRAPHY: SECONDARY SOURCES Barr, Alwyn. Black Texans: A History of African Americans in Texas, 1528 - 1995. University of Oklahoma Press, 1996. Berman, Ari. "Federal Court Blocks Discriminary Texas Redistrict Plan". The Nation. 2012. Berman, Ari. "How the GOP is Resegregating the South". The Nation. Burnham, Walter. Voting in American Elections: The Shaping of the American Political Universe since 1788. Academia Press, 2010. Hine, Darlene Clark, Stephen F. Lawson, and Merline Pitre. Black Victory: The Rise and Fall of the White Primary in Texas. University of Missouri Press, 2003. Davidson, Chandler. Minority Vote Dilution. Harvard University Press, 1984. Davidson, Chandler and Bernard Grofman, eds. Quiet Revolution in the South: The Impact of the Voting Rights Act 1965-1900. Princeton University Press, 1994. de León, Arnoldo. Mexican Americans in Texas: A Brief History. Harland Davidson, Inc, 1991. Douglass, Frederick. “What the Black Man Wants”. Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts AntiSlavery Society, Boston, 1865. Frieden, Thomas. "Federal court strikes down Texas voter ID law". CNN Politics. August 30, 2012. http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/30/politics/texas-voter-id-law/index.html Kludt, Tom and Catherine Thompson. “Federal Court Rules Texas Voter ID Law Is Discriminatory.” Talking Points Memo, August 30, 2012. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/federal-court-rules-texas-voter-id-law-isdiscriminatory. Maddow, Rachel. "Little Faith House can Secure Voting Rights after SCOTUS Blow ". The Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC, 2013. Montejano, David. Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas. Austin:University of Texas Press, 1987. Morton, Tina. “Travis County Honors Over 2,000 Volunteer Deputy Registrars.” Register U+2 Campaign. 2012. "Paul Bettencourt to Run for Texas Senate." The Journal: Friendswood. 2011 “Photo ID now required for Voting in Texas,” Texas Secretary of State: John Steen, 2013 Reilly, Ryan, Mike Sacks, and Sabrina Siddiqui. Huffington Post. 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/25/voting-rights-act-supremecourt_n_3429810.html Roth, Zachary. “Texas: Blame Wendy Davis or voting hassles.” MSNBC. November 18, 2013. http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/texas-blame-wendy-davis-voting-hassles “Study: Minority Groups Who Voted 80 Percent Obama To Become Majority.” CBS-DC. November 8, 2012. http://washington.cbslocal.com/2012/11/08/study-minority-groupswho-voted-80-percent-obama-to-become-majority/. Williams, Juan. Foreword in Thernstrom, Abigail, Voting Rights and Wrongs: The Elusive Quest for Racially Fair Elections. Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 2008.
COURT CASES Bullock v. Carter, 405 U.S. 134 (1972). League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, 548 U.S. 399 (U.S. Supreme Court 2006). Perez v. Texas, 891 F. Supp. 2d 808, 838 (W.D. Tex. 2012). Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. Syllabus (2013). South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 309 (U.S. Supreme Court 1966). Texas v. United States, 11-cv-01303 (U.S. District Court 2012). Texas Democratic Party & Harris County Democratic Party v. Leo Vasquez, Harris County Tax Assessor Collector & Voter Registrar, No. 4:08-CV-03332 (U.S. Dist. Ct. S.D. Tex., Houston Division 2008). Texas Democratic Party & Harris County Democratic Party v. Paul Bettencourt, Harris County Tax Assessor & Voter Registrar, No. 4:08-CV-03332 (U.S. Dist. Ct. S.D. Tex., Houston Division 2008). The United States v. North Harris Montgomery Community College District, and Board of Trustees, Defendants., WL 2515711 (U.S. Dist. Ct. S.D. Tex. 2006) GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS, LETTERS, INTERVIEWS, AND WEBSITES 42 U.S.C §1971. Boyd, Jr., Ralph F. (Assistant Attorney General) to Geoffrey Connor (Acting Texas Secretary of State). “Section 5 Objection: Redistricting Plan (House).” November 16, 2001. http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/sec_5/ltr/l_111601.php. “California Secretary of State Debra Bowen,” California Secretary of State Office, http://www.sos.ca.gov. “Department of State,” New York Secretary of State Office, http://www.dos.ny.gov. Elfant, Bruce and Dee Lopez, (Travis County Voter Registrar and Director). interview by Emily Pendleton. "Travis County Voter Registrar Meeting Report." May 30, 2013. Ingram, Keith (Director of Elections). interview by Emily Pendleton, Lane Kazmierski, and Whitney Knox. September 18, 2013. Holder, Eric. “Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers Remarks at the National Urban League Annual Conference”. National Urban League Annual Conference, Philadelphia, PA, July 25, 2013. http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/ag/speeches/2013/ag-speech-130725.html. Perez, Thomas E. (Assistant Attorney General) to Keith Ingram (Director of Elections) “Section 5 Objection: Voter Registration and Photographic Identification Procedures Contained in Chapter 123 (S.C. 14),” March 12, 2012. http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/sec_5/ltr/l_031212.php. “Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.” U.S. Department of Justice: Civil Rights Division, http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/misc/sec_4.php#sec4 “Section 5 Covered Jurisdictions.” U.S. Department of Justice: Civil Rights Division, http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/sec_5/covered.php. “Texas Secretary of State John Steen,” Texas Secretary of State Office, http://www.sos.state.tx.us. Tex. Elec. Code §13.031. Tex. Gov't Code §411.176. "Voting Rights Act of 1965". Pub. L. No. 107-296, 79 Stat. 437 (1965). http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?doc=100&page=transcript.