After five years in court, Texas advocacy groups won a lawsuit against the state to provide an option for Texans to register to vote at the same time they are renewing their driver’s license.
According to organizations MOVE Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project, for years, the state was not following in compliance with the Federal Motor Voter Act which federally requires states to have the option on the Department of Safety website.
Texas Civil Rights Project Senior Voting Rights Attorney Hani Mirza said the state’s lack of compliance with the law most likely impacted people who move frequently.
“Those people tend to be renters, people who are at a lower income bracket, and also just based on the census records, people of color,” Mirza said. “We believe that the suppression was targeted at those groups.”
After hearing voter-status complaints, Mirza said he and the team found open-records requests from numerous Texans made to the state. So instead of the state providing a check yes or no box to register to vote they were being required to fill out, print a registration form and send it to the secretary of state.
“We believe they on purpose didn’t fix this very simple issue and very clear violation of the law to suppress the vote, ” Mirza said. “And because they didn’t follow the law for many years millions of people had to manually register to vote and many most likely never registered.”
According to statistics, Texas is one of the hardest states to vote and has recently been in the spotlight for pushing to pass restrictive voter legislation.
Before this case, online voter registration was not made accessible to Texas voters at all, but advocates are hopeful this lawsuit will lead to increased participation in voting.
“We’ve already seen in the time since the judge forced the state to create this online voter registration portal through DPS now more than a million people have been able to register to vote,” Charlie Bonner, Communications Director at MOVE Texas said. “Every Texan should have access to online voter registration and not just when they are renewing their driver license.”
Bonner also said this victory in court is only the first step to creating an easier process to register to vote in Texas.
“Nobody knows better how difficult it is to register to vote than the young advocates that we work with that spend semesters putting clipboards in hands on college campuses trying to help break down that barrier,” Bonner said. “We spend millions of dollars investing in those on the ground voter registration efforts because we have to.”
In this latest legislative special session, Gov. Greg Abbott put election integrity as his top priority instead of addressing some of Texans biggest issues including access to affordable healthcare and fixing the failing power grid.
“If we’re going to say that we care about the integrity of our elections, the best thing we could do is to implement an online or automatic voter registration that cleans up the voter rolls,” Bonner said. “The handwritten system that we have is riddled with errors as a result and often rolls don’t match.”
Bonner also said when a federal court removed the preclearance for jurisdictions in Shelby v. Holder in 2013, states like Texas increased their effort to suppress the vote of minority communities.
“We saw increased efforts to pass voter ID, we’ve seen voter purges, we’ve seen hundreds of polling locations across the state close, so many of these efforts that lead up to the inflection point we’ve seen now,” Bonner said. “Unfortunately we see these as a cynical attempt of holding onto power. So instead of trying to win on the issues they try to change the rules.”
Mirza said Texas legislators are realizing the changing demographics in Texas and are doing what they can to suppress the vote.
“Texas is one of the most diverse states in the country. It’s a majority-minority state,” Mirza said. “The vote suppresses currently in power are predominantly white and they are now in the minority and they are realizing that their power is shifting away from them.”
Texas Democrats broke quorum in early July after Republicans continued to push voter suppression legislation with no amendments or common ground between parties. Democrats across the state and the country are pushing Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act before Abbott calls another special session this month.
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