The 63-page human rights report finds a lack of active voter registration procedures in the state. For example, two-thirds of the random high schools the group surveyed failed to distribute voter registration applications to eligible students twice a year, as is required by law.
Jim Harrington is the director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. He spoke at a news conference in Austin.
“We also have seen that the agencies that are required by law to register people when they go in for services aren’t doing it.”
Those agencies include the Department of State Health Services and the Department of Aging and Disability Services among others. Harrington says the Department of Public Safety is the only agency that effectively registers voters and transfers the registrations to the Texas Secretary of State.
“And then even then when they’re doing it, it’s very haphazard. There’s no uniform certificate to show that you’re registered, so that you can go to the polling place and your name isn’t there, you can say, look, here’s my registration to serve as my receipt.”
He says it all goes back to Secretary of State John Steen’s office and in particular Keith Ingram, the head of the office’s election division.
“And you can see, when you talk to him, that the leadership — the secretary of state and him — really don’t much care about having as many people vote as possible.”
Harrington suggests the reason for a lack of effort to register voters in Texas has to do with people in power wanting to stay in power.
A spokeswoman for the Texas secretary of state’s office says she hasn’t seen the report but points out that Texas reached a record number in voter registrations last fall.
She also says the secretary of state’s office has no enforcement power over other state agencies.
Harrington acknowledges the high turnout last year but says things can always get better.
Brandon Rottinghaus is a political scientist at the University of Houston.
“It is certainly the case that new voters create more ambiguity and create uncertainty, and so new voters certainly change the face of an electorate, and you’ve got a state which is definitely in transition in terms of young voters, in terms of ethnic voters. And so if you have that, it makes politicians nervous to make those kinds of changes.”
Rottinghaus says Texas and Harris County have significantly lower turnout than other places and especially among Latino and young voters. And he says those are exactly the kinds of voters who are more likely to vote Democratic.
“If getting registered is more challenging for these groups than for other groups, then it certainly limits the ability for the Democratic Party to see Texas more blue.”
The Texas Civil Rights Project makes 16 recommendations on how to address the issue. They include for state agencies to use electronic systems like the DPS does; new laws that would grant enforcement power to state elections officials; and an involvement of the Texas Education Agency in ensuring high schools meet their registration requirements.