The League of Women Voters of Texas supports every citizen’s right to vote, modernization of voter registration procedures, uniformly enforced election procedures, and clearly stated election laws
that facilitate voter engagement.
Last Thursday, House Speaker Straus released the committee structure for the 85th Texas Legislative Session. Now we know the members of both gatekeeper committees for most voting and elections bills – the Senate State Affairs Committee and House Elections Committee. For the first time in the past four sessions, the Election Committee has a returning chair and several members. The Senate committee is relatively unchanged from last session. If you have a close relationship with any of these committee members, please let us know. To gain acceptance of online voter registration it is likely these individuals will be critical in the decision.
House Elections Committee
Chair – Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, Parker
Vice Ch. – Rep. Celia Israel, Austin
Rep. Rodney Anderson, Grand Prairie
Rep. Pat Fallon, Frisco
Rep. Lyle Larson, San Antonio
Rep. Ron Reynolds, Missouri City
Rep. Valoree Swanson, Spring
Senate State Affairs Committee
Chair – Sen. Joan Huffman, Houston
Vice Ch. – Bryan Hughes, Mineola
Sen. Brian Birdwell, Granbury
Sen. Brandon Creighton, Conroe
Sen. Craig Estes, Wichita Falls
Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., Brownsville
Sen. Jane Nelson, Flower Mound
Sen. Charles Schwertner, Georgetown
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, Laredo
If you’ve been reading the national and Texas news, you’ve seen that talk of voter fraud is rampant, but proof of it is scant. Proof or not, it keeps the topics addressed in many of the voting and election bills almost a carbon copy of previous ones since 2011: voter photo ID, voter registration and limitations on election days and locations. But, there are also many bills that support LWV-TX positions. We’ve reviewed more than 200 voting or elections related bills thus far and sorted them into tentative piles of positive and negative. Consider this sort “tentative” because bills often change drastically during the process – for good or ill. We will keep you informed as bills are referred to committees and see action. These bills rise to the top, but there are other bills that would have a less dramatic positive effect. Bills that have been referred to committees will be followed with either [E] for House Elections Committee or [SA] for Senate State Affairs.
Positive Bills – Voter Registration
· SB 185 by Uresti – Similar OVR bill to one introduced last session [SA]
· HB 80 by Alvarado – Similar OVR bill to one introduced last session [E]
· HB 143 by Israel – Implementation of online (electronic) voter registration (OVR), almost identical to the one introduced last session with 76 co-authors. [E]
· HB 469 by Eric Johnson and SB 232 by Menendez – Providing same day registration [SA]
· HB 910 by Romero, Jr. – Allowing Volunteer Deputy Registrars to perform duties in all counties
· HB 1002 by Israel – Requiring DPS to issue a receipt when registering voters
[We are also following several automatic voter registration bills, but not yet taken a position to support or oppose: SB 186 by Uresti, SB 281 by Menendez, and HB 70 by Minjarez.]
Positive Bills – Voter Identification
[LWV-TX doesn’t support the use of voter photo IDs, but these bills offer improvements if the current court case directives are overturned by the Supreme Court.]
· SB 284 by Watson – Allowing use of photo IDs issued by public universities and the state [SA]
· SB 643 by Watson -- Putting into law the voter ID details provided by the court system [SA]
· HB 1173 & HB 1213 by Nevarez – Allowing photo IDs issued by tribal entities
Positive Bills – Elections Administration
· SB 144 by Garcia & HB 450 by Fallon – Allowing mobile devices in the voting booth to read election information (Note: such as the LWV Voters Guides)
· SB 230 by Menendez & HB 199 by Bernal – Allowing countywide vote centers in any county
· SB 173 by Campbell – Establishing the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November as the only uniform voting date [SA]
· HB 48 by Romero, Jr. – Calls for an electronic method to request vote by mail ballot applications [E]
· HB 496 by Minjarez – Calling for Texas to join the National Popular Vote Compact (requiring the presidential electors to reflect only the statewide popular vote)
· HB 952 by Justin Rodriguez – Allows email correspondence about vote by mail applications
· HB 961 by Justin Rodriguez – Calling for plurality voting for “junior college” trustees (eliminating run-offs)
· HB 999 by Israel – Requiring water district elections on uniform dates
· HB 1272 by Schofield – Requiring municipal utility districts (MUDs) to place election notices in water bills [bill filed at the request of Cy-Fair MAL]
Positive Bills – Youth Vote
· SB 145 by Garcia & HB 266 by Hernandez – Requiring high school senior voter education & opportunities to register to vote [SA][E]
· SB 150 by Garcia, SB 187 by Uresti, HB 368 by Howard & HJR 31 by Howard – Allowing registration at age 17 and participation in primary elections if age 18 by the uniform November election date [SA]
· HB 1195 by Swanson – Requiring a civics standard test for all graduating high school seniors with questions similar to naturalization test
There are quite a few negative or potentially negative bills, and many more that a designation can’t be determined until the bills proceed and further research is done by LWV and other voting rights groups. Here are the most obviously damaging bills:
· HB 530 by Schofield – Prohibits delivery of voter registration cards during the 30 days before an election
· HB 905 by Rick Miller – Requires citizenship document be presented with the registration form
Voter Photo ID
· HB 384 by Murphy – Requires a photo on each voter registration card
· SB 5 (yet to be filed) – Bill number reserved as Lt. Gov. Patrick’s “Voter ID” bill.
· SB 136 by Van Taylor & HB 1079 by Schofield– Onerous proof of citizenship requirements [SA]
· SB 702 by Huffines – Requires voting by 33 percent of registered voters in any jurisdiction’s bond election for the vote to be valid
· SB 703 by Huffines – Forbids mobile early voting use for bond issue elections
· HB 288 by Keough – Reduction in number of early voting days [E]
· HB 531 by Schofield – Limitations on assistance that can be provided to those requesting vote by mail ballots and related penalties
· HB 534 by Schofield – Bill would reinstitute law overruled by the courts regarding voter assistance at the polling place
· HB 1530 by Workman and HB 1541 by Shaheen – Allowing the posting of polling place locations be only online or on social media
· HB 1576 by Schofield – Limits mobile early voting stations
Closely following all of the actions underway in Texas regarding voting and elections is a full time job for multiple people. Luckily there is “ElectionOnlineWeekly!” Here’s a summary of what’s going on in Texas in just the last week. For information on national and other state news you can receive it free directly by signing-up here. “Electionline.org” is the nation's only nonpartisan, non-advocacy clearinghouse for election reform news and information, supported by a variety of foundations over the years..
Texas: The U.S. Department of Justice requested, and has received a postponement in a scheduled hearing over the state’s voter ID law. "Because of the change in administration, the Department of Justice also experienced a transition in leadership," the Justice Department petition states. "The United States requires additional time to brief the new leadership of the Department on this case and the issues to be addressed at that hearing before making any representations to the Court." The hearing has been delayed until Feb. 28. Also this week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from officials in the Lone Star State to restore the voter ID law. Although no reason was given, Chief Justice John Roberts did say that the court is free to consider the case after further proceedings in the lower courts.
Also in the Lone Star State, the Texas Civil Rights Project is asking the U.S. District Court in San Antonio to hold the state in contempt of court for failing to hand over documents in an ongoing federal lawsuit over the state’s compliance with the Motor Voter Law.
In other Texas legal news, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the Pasadena voting rights case on February 1.
The struggle for voting rights in Texas is as old as the League. We know how we compare to other states in education, women’s health, and voting – all near the bottom of the list. Additionally, since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, national research claims Texas has had more VRA violations than any other state. It isn’t a new phenomenon.
Legislative actions in the past several sessions represent further deterioration of voting rights with the passage of the photo ID requirement and extreme gerrymandering of the state voting districts. Even in the face of court rulings on the effects of those actions, we continue to be in the thick of continued efforts to make voting more difficult and constrain honestly competitive elections.
All of these negative bills are straight out of the national playbook being used in other states. Many have been found unconstitutional, even the Supreme Court. Those legal battles were fought by the League and similar organizations, with the involvement of the U.S. Department of Justice. In Texas, we are already on official notice the DOJ is likely changing sides.
To undertake advocacy in this legislative session, LWV-TX calls upon its core beliefs in supporting every Texas citizen’s right to vote, modernization of its voter registration and voting procedures, and other actions to allow increased voter participation.
A LWV-TX Priority Issue
Voting Rights and Elections is one of the three LWV-TX priority issues this Session, with passage of online voter registration again its top priority. We are actively participating with the Texas Election Reform Coalition and many other groups to pursue OVR, but none are as important as League members throughout Texas who respond to Action Alert requests. Please heed them and offer your assistance and insights to us until Sine Die at the end of May.
The 85th Legislature landscape sees the continuation of the pursuit of laws to diminish the rights of all citizens to participate in voting. Luckily, it also sees the continued pursuit of some laws that would help restore those citizens’ voting rights.
Based on announced priorities and bills already filed, here is the big picture. Details on specific bills will be listed and updated regularly in this space.
Positive Actions Being Considered
· Online (Electronic) Voter Registration – Austin State Rep. Celia Israel and Houston Rep. Carol Alvarado filing HB 143 and HB 80, respectively, to allow statewide online voter registration that are almost identical to those submitted in the 84th. San Antonio Senator Carlos Uresti also introduced SB 185, an OVR bill similar to last session. Other bills would allow “automatic registration” and registration at the polls during early voting or Election Day.
· Voter Registration – A variety of bills that would help the process, such as:
o require the DPS to issue a voter registration receipt (Rep. Israel, HB 1002)
o require an email address on the registration form to allow Voter Registrar contact to correct omitted information (Rep. Justin Rodriguez, HB 953)
o allow volunteer deputy registrars (VDRs) to register voters statewide (Rep. Romero, Jr., HB 910)
· Mobile Phones in Polling Places – State Rep. Pat Fallon and Sen. Sylvia Garcia filing HB 144 and SB 450, respectively, to allow use of mobile platform devices in the polling place to refer to information (such as the LWV Voters Guides).
· Voter ID – Several bills, similar to those in the 84th Session, to expand the number of acceptable photo voter IDs, including public and private student IDs, Texas government employee IDs and tribal IDs.
Negative Proposals Filed
· Voter ID – Lt. Gov. Patrick has reserved SB 5 for his priority photo voter ID bill that is yet to be submitted. He is on record saying it will be similar to the Indiana Voter ID requirements, which have yet to be ruled unlawful by the courts. According to the Indiana Election Division, Indiana voter IDs must:
o Display a name generally in conformance with the voter registration
o Display an expiration date and either be current or have expired sometime after the date of the last General Election.
o Be issued by the State or U.S. government.
Student IDs from an Indiana State school are allowed if they meet the other criteria. No private school IDs are acceptable.
[Perhaps if using Indiana as a model, they will notice Indiana is one of the 39 states that offer online voter registration.]
· Voter Registration – SB 136 by Sen. Van Taylor, places the burden of proof of citizenship (birth certificate, passport, citizen papers) on the Secretary of State / County Registrar for each voter registration completed outside the DPS office. HB 384 by Rep. Rick Miller calls for a photo on each voter registration certificate, which could then be one of the forms of Voter ID.
· Election Procedures – Bills have been introduced that would further restrict access to elections. They would:
o Reduce the number of early voting days (Rep. Keough, HB 288)
o Limit early voting branch times and places (Rep. Fallon, HB 675)
o Prohibit delivery of voter registration cards in the 30 days prior to an election (Rep. Schofield, HB 530)
o Limit assistance for requesting a mail-in ballot (Rep. Schofield, HB 531)
o Limit assistance in the voter booth (Rep. Schofield, HB 534) [same language recently overruled by the courts]