Op-Ed: Love democracy? Start local

by | Jan 28, 2022 | 2022 Elections, Opinion

At the federal level, voting rights legislation has stalled. At the state level, Texas voters are facing voter registration form shortages and high rates of mail-in ballot applications being rejected.

What’s a person who cares about voting rights supposed to do?

Go local. Who is your elections administrator? Who is your county clerk? Paying attention to whether your local leaders believe in fair and free elections is more important now than ever. The best, and perhaps only, lever currently available to pro-voter advocates lies at the local level. Those who want to make it harder for people to vote are organized and motivated. Those of us who want to make it simpler need to organize, define our message, and promote good public policies to make that happen.

One of the first things we need to agree on is that our system for voter registration and elections should be easy for voters to understand and access. Travis County is the only one of the largest 10 counties in Texas by population which still uses a split system for voting responsibilities — the Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector runs voter registration, and the Travis County Clerk administers elections. Of Texas counties with more than 117,000 residents (39 counties), only 6 still use the split Clerk/Tax Assessor system.

Our current divided voter registration/elections system is outdated, inefficient, and rooted in the discriminatory practices of Jim Crow and the poll tax. As recently as 1966, the tax assessor-collector had to determine whether or not this tax was paid before you could register to vote.

We should follow the lead of every other large county in Texas (most recently, @HarrisVotes in 2020) by bringing together the election duties currently split between the County Clerk and Tax Assessor-Collector into a single office: @TravisVotes, run by an appointed, nonpartisan county elections administrator. I hope the Travis County Commissioners Court votes to make this transition soon. 

This is a huge but necessary step, and we should seek out and center community input, feedback, and considerations from all voters in Travis County as we begin this process. In the meantime, we need a County Clerk who will fight back against voter suppression by implementing innovative ideas at the local level, so that Travis County can have the shortest lines and highest voter turnout in Texas.

Making this transition to a unified elections administrator model will eliminate a relic of Jim Crow, reduce voter confusion, and ensure we have a streamlined and modern system for the entire voting process, all the way from getting registered to casting your ballot.  Policy matters — let’s get it right at the local level.

Kurt Lockhart is a proud Volunteer Deputy Registrar, poll worker, nonprofit data manager, and candidate for the Democratic nomination for Travis County Clerk.

Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

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