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.

07/25/17 – Special Session Action

SB 5 - Ballot by Mail Bill Steamrolls Forward

The 85th Legislature Special Session Senate State Affairs Committee considered SB 5 in a Sunday afternoon meeting July 23rd. Following public testimony, it was quickly passed out of Committee and could win full Senate approval and move to the House today. The League’s comments are here. As you’ll see in the testimony, we believe there is mail-in ballot abuse, and support action to help deter it. We just feel that the penalties being offered don’t fit the crime.

 

HB 1735, passed in the regular session and going into effect January 1, 2018, already bumps up all of the early voting abuse penalties one level. We consider increasing these penalties, before the ones passed in the regular session even go into effect, piling on and unnecessary. Sen. Kelly Hancock, the Senate sponsor, disagrees.

 

Penalty increases are the major thrust of the bill, tied to:

·         Voting or attempting to vote in an election in which the person knows they are not eligible;

·         Knowingly voting or attempting to vote more than once;

·         Knowingly voting or attempting to vote a ballot belonging to another person or by impersonating another person; or

·         Knowingly marking or attempting to mark any portion of another person’s ballot without the consent of that person or without specific direction from that person on how to mark the ballot.

 

Those actions and some others become state jail felony offenses. League members across the state have reported knowing about mail ballot abuse. We believe in the sanctity of every vote and want to eliminate vote theft by those who take advantage of others or outright steal ballots. How much of a problem is it and would these penalties make a difference? Some believe that increasing the penalties would be enough to deter the potential criminal activity. Initially we planned to remain neutral, because we are definitely against all of those crimes. However, we later found that these penalties were on top of those already going into effect. So, when the bill says the penalty would be the next highest level, it meant on top of those just passed…a double jump.  

 

If given the opportunity, we will weigh in again on SB 5/HB 184 in the House. We will continue to call attention to the extra penalty step and to a request for better design of the mail-in ballot and carrier envelope. That is touted by researchers as a major way to prevent unintended improper use of the mail-in ballot. There was no consideration of such an amendment in the Senate, as we expected.

 

Several other bills pertaining to mail ballots have also been filed, and some are now referred to the appropriate Committees, as listed below. We do not anticipate any additional consideration of these bills, at least in the Senate. There is a very remote possibility that some of the bill language could be used to amend SB 5, but expect the House Elections Committee to protect it from any amendments just as it did for the SB 5 Voter ID bill in the Regular Session.

·         HB 47 by Schofield (also tweaks language from HB 658 that passed in the regular session pertaining to voting in nursing homes and other residential facilities and becomes law 09/01/2017) [House Elections Committee]

·          HB 73 by Bohac (similar to HB 90/SB 34) [House Elections Committee]

·          HB 89 by Hinojosa -- adding mail ballot eligibility for round-the-clock caretakers

·          HB 90 by Hinojosa / SB 34 by Miles (companion bills) – refining the mail-in ballot and easier address changes [HB 90 is now in House Elections Committee; SB 34 was not referred to committee]

·         HB 96 by Swanson (also wholly contained within HB 47), dealing with signature evaluation and verification [House Elections Committee]

·         HB 184 by Goldman – Companion to SB 5 – the Gov./Lt. Gov.-endorsed bill, with 40 co-authors. [House Elections Committee]

 

Several other voting/elections bills below have been introduced (each previously introduced in the regular session) and will probably go no further. However, the House Elections Committee is to hold its first meeting on Friday, July 28th and the majority of committee members are friendly to the two Fallon bills which we definitely oppose. Stranger things have happened.

·          HB 68 by Minjarez – Calling for participation in the National Presidential Popular Vote Compact [House Elections Committee]

·          HB 132 by Reynolds – Calling for Fort Bend ISD single member districts [House Elections Committee]

·          HB 66 by Minjarez – Establishing automatic voter registration by DPS upon new or renewed driver’s licenses [House Elections Committee]

·         HB 289 by Fallon – Requiring citizenship papers to accompany voter registration documents [House Elections Committee]

·         HB 294 by Fallon – Halving the number of early voting days (including Sunday) [House Elections Committee]

·         SB 88 by Huffines – Raising the penalties for voting or attempting to vote by non-citizens to a third degree felony, most likely resulting in deportation. [Not referred]

07/19/17 – Special Session Begins

It’s All About Ballot by Mail and Fixation on the Number 5

 

The 85th Legislature passed SB 5 – “Voter ID Bill Version 2” just before the session ended in May. It is set to become effective January 1, 2018, but continues to be the subject of the U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi after hearings on the subject in June. Attorney General Paxton filed an additional pleading July 17th continuing the argument that now everything is all fixed – nothing to look at here. We’ll see how that goes.  The Jeff Sessions Department of Justice has switched sides in that lawsuit that has been active since 2011. Even if the Judge puts Texas voting activities back under pre-clearance it would be that same Sessions DOJ doing the oversight.

 

But, a Special Session began July 18th and the subject is still SB 5! This SB 5 is about mail ballot fraud. It’s on the Governor’s Top 20 List. The Governor anointed a House member and Senate member to carry and be responsible for passing each of the 20 bills.  Rep. Craig Goldman, Fort Worth, and Sen. Kelly Hancock, North Richland Hills, serve in those roles for SB 5 and its identical companion HB 184.

 

The major thrust of the bill is an increase in the penalties tied to:

·         Voting or attempting to vote in an election in which the person knows they are not eligible;

·         Knowingly voting or attempting to vote more than once;

·         Knowingly voting or attempting to vote a ballot belonging to another person or by impersonating another person; or

·         Knowingly marking or attempting to mark any portion of another person’s ballot without the consent of that person or without specific direction from that person on how to mark the ballot.

 

Those actions and some others become state jail felony offenses. League members have reported knowing about mail ballot abuse across the state. We believe in the sanctity of every vote and want to eliminate vote theft by those who take advantage of others or outright steal ballots. How much of a problem is it and would these penalties make a difference? Some believe that increasing the penalties would be enough to deter the potential criminal activity. Initially we will remain neutral and hope to receive additional evidence. It is possible there could be House committee public hearings on the bill(s) if the House considers the bill. If you have any additional local information on mail ballot abuse in your county, please forward that to cindeweatherby@gmail.com.

 

Several other bills pertaining to mail ballot irregularities have also been filed:

·         HB 47 by Schofield (also tweaks language from HB 658 that passed in the regular session pertaining to voting in nursing homes and other residential facilities and becomes law 09/01/2017)

·         HB 96 by Swanson (also wholly contained within HB 47), dealing with signature evaluation and verification

·         HB 90 by Hinojosa / SB 34 by Miles (companion bills) – refining the mail-in ballot and easier address changes

·         HB 73 by Bohac (similar to HB 90/SB 34)

·         HB 89 by Hinojosa -- adding mail ballot eligibility for round-the-clock caretakers

 

We know about a consensus Democratic House bill in development that would eliminate the increased proposed penalties and call for improvements in the mail ballot and envelope. If given the opportunity, we will weigh in on the need for better ballot and envelope design. That is touted as a major way to prevent unintended improper use of the mail-in ballot. Realistically, consideration of amendments to SB 5/HB 184 is likely only in the House, yet not too likely.

 

SB 5 is very likely to be the bill that comes out of the Senate, soon after the Sunset Bill gets to the Governor and the remaining 19 bills are added to the official call for the special session. On the first day of session, the Sunset Bill initial action took place in quick order…it was referred to Committee, immediately passed out, and presented to the full body. Similar steamrolling may take place on all of the other 19 bills in the Senate.

 

Several other voting/elections bills (each previously introduced in the regular session) were introduced and will probably go no further:

·         HB 68 by Minjarez – Calling for participation in the National Presidential Popular Vote Compact

·         HB 132 by Reynolds – Calling for Fort Bend ISD single member districts

·         HB 66 by Minjarez – Establishing automatic voter registration by DPS upon new or renewed driver’s licenses

06/03/17 (Updated 06/22/17)

Voting & Elections Legislation, Post Sine Die – Still no Online Voter Registration!

 

The brief story of the 2017 Session for voting rights and elections: nothing really bad was passed and a few minor process improvements were made.

 

The chants of “voter fraud” continued to be recited even though all League members know there is no “rampant voter fraud or impersonation” in our state or any other. Governor Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick, the two chief cheerleaders rallying the voter fraud cry, let it be known that no online voter registration bills would be considered this session.  Although, mail-in balloting, the one area where some irregularities have been documented was addressed in an even-handed manner. One very small victory: Volunteer Deputy Registrars (VDRs) will now be able to deliver voter registration applications to county offices the day after the deadline to be registered.

 

We followed 280 bills related to voting and elections during the 85th Session. The House and Senate committees offered public hearings on precious few of those. Thankfully only a few made it to the finish line and were passed by both houses.

 

Online Voter Registration

As mentioned above, none of the bills to establish online voter registration even received lip service this session. When it became common knowledge that the Governor and Lt. Governor would quash any  OVR action, the early session hope of passing HB 143 by House Elections Vice Chair Celia Israel ended. Israel authored HB 76 in the 2015 session and received 75 House co-authors and an “abbreviated” hearing in the House Elections Committee, but no vote. HB 143, nor any of the other voter registration modernization bills received any action but referral to committee. Others included:

HB 70 by Reps. Minjarez/Guillen – automatic registration

HB 80 by Rep. Alvarado -- online voter registration

HB 159 by Rep. Dutton – optional county online voter registration

HB 469 by Rep. Eric Johnson – same day registration

HB 955 by Rep. J. Rodriguez – same day registration

HB 1955 by Rep. Reynolds – SOS online voter registration

 

Other positive voter registration bills were introduced and did not see any action. Among those:

HB 910 by Rep. Romero – to allow VDRs to register voters in all counties

HB 953 by Rep. J. Rodriguez – requiring counties to contact registrants via email about application problems before rejecting the applications

HB 1002 by Rep. Israel – requiring DPS to provide receipts for voter registration

 

Legislators filed numerous bills to expand the types of photo voter identification. Only HB 1173 by Rep. Nevarez, to add tribal ID cards, received a public hearing, and then was left to die in committee.

 

Voter ID

The most talked about bill approved this session was SB 5, the Lt. Governor’s high priority Voter ID bill. It passed early in the session; soon afterwards there was a hearing on the companion HB 2481 by Rep. King in the House Elections Committee. It then languished in the House Calendars committee. On Sunday night, May 21st, Abbott named it an “emergency matter for immediate consideration,” and it was set for House floor action the following Tuesday. On June 1, Governor Abbott signed it, and it is set to become law January 1, 2018.

 

The bill generally codifies the changes in voter ID requirements set in the July 2016 U.S. District Court order, with a few exceptions. The main SB 5 addition is making it a state jail penalty to make a false statement on the substitute impediment form used when voting without one of the seven photo IDs. That was just one of several differences between SB 5, as introduced, and the Court order. On the House Floor members added multiple amendments making the bill more reasonable. Some of those changes (retaining the four-year expiration date for IDs and address matching issues) remained in the final adopted bill.

 

However, the Court is set to revisit the issue in June 2017, following the legislative session. Because the Court ruled SB 14, the Voter ID law passed in 2011, as intentionally discriminatory, it is still to be determined how SB 5’s passage will be received. Placing Texas back under U.S. Dept. of Justice preclearance for any election-related actions is a possibility. Although Attorney General Session’s DOJ idea of preclearance will likely be different than predecessors.

 

LWV-TX Actions

While our advocacy on OVR languished, we took positions and actions on the following bills.

 

Bills We Supported

 

A few bills we registered our support for were passed by both Houses, although none of the bills we presented testimony to support made it to the finish line. Also note below, some bills we supported in one house, were significantly amended in the other house.

 

Bills passing and sent to the Governor include:

 

HB 658 by Rep. Bernal – originally introduced to provide priority treatment for voters with certain disabilities, and our support was based upon that. It became a “Christmas tree” bill in the Senate with a more than six-page comprehensive amendment by Senate State Affairs Chair Huffman adding special voting available to residents in residential care facilities (senior living/nursing homes). It is meant to address voting irregularities in elder care residential or nursing homes. If not vetoed by Gov. Abbot, look for much more about the implementation of these provisions, that include totally new procedures. [EFFECTIVE 09/01/17]

 

HB 961 by Rep. J. Rodriguez – allows the option of plurality voting for junior/community college trustees (other than Blinn College). [VETOED 06/16/17]

 

HB 999 by Rep. Israel – unless otherwise required by statute, requires water district officer/board elections on the May uniform election date. [EFFECTIVE 09/01/17]

 

HB 2324 by Rep. Israel – allows individuals or VDRs to turn in voter registration applications to county offices the day after the deadline 30 days prior to elections. [EFFECTIVE 09/01/17]

 

HB 4034 by Rep. Bohac – originally introduced to require counties to send list of registrants who indicate an interest in working elections to the two county chairs of each county executive committees. Our support was based on that original bill. Amended in the Senate by State Affairs Chair Huffman to give SOS authority to eliminate duplicate voter registration records as part of the statewide registration rolls, though indicating weak or strong matches and only acting on strong matches; allow SOS to withhold funds to counties not complying with deleting dead voters from the rolls. [HB 2837 by Rep. Dean also passed and contains exactly the same language on dead voters.] We testified against HB 2837 because registrars report often not being in receipt of deaths from the various suppliers of that information. [EFFECTIVE 06/12/17]

Bills that died that we supported with testimony include: (see below for links to the testimony)

 

HB 187 by Rep. Dutton and HB 260 by Rep. E. Johnson – on Dept. of Criminal Justice providing those “off paper” with voter registration forms and information

 

HB 450 by Rep. Fallon – to allow mobile devices in the voting booth

 

HB 1887 by Rep. Romero and SB 148 by Sen. Garcia – concerning eligibility of interpreters in an election

 

HB 3328 by Rep. E. Rodriguez – requiring SOS to make public the expenditures for voter identification education

 

Bills We Opposed

 

While none of the bills passed that we opposed, two bills passed that we would have liked to see fail. One we testified against (HB 2837 by Rep. Dean mentioned above) passed on its own and as part of HB 4034. The other is SB 5 by Sen. Huffman that is discussed above and is already signed by Gov. Abbott.

 

Among the bills we opposed that did not move forward:

HB 384 by Rep. Murphy – to require photos on voter registration certificates

 

HB 1149 by Rep. S. Davis – to allow for only electronic posting of voting locations rather than printing in a newspaper

 

HB 1683 by Rep. Fallon -- to significantly reduce the number of early voting days

 

HB 3422 by Rep. Laubenberg – to authorize data sharing to permit Texas participation in interstate voter registration crosscheck program, with the stated intention of that being the State of Kansas “free” matching system, not the more reliable and multi-state run ERIC program.

 

HB 3474 by Rep. Fallon – to require proof of U.S. citizenship at voter registration

 

Took No Position – Bills That Passed

 

HB 1735 by Rep. Faircloth – Began as a mostly a partisan primary bill, but became more in the last days of the session.  This bill passed, with the addition of a major amendment by Senate State Affairs Chair Huffman that added a wide variety of elements from other bills. It deals with a miscellany of election officer rules, oaths, and penalties for voting in both primaries in the same election. It makes it easier for someone to discreetly select the party primary they wish to vote in. It provides for prosecution of “vote harvesting organizations” that consist of three or more who may or may not know each other, but are subverting the rules. Of note to LWV Voters Guide leaders, it spells out the contents of a candidate’s application for office and including a reliable email address for reaching the candidate or campaign. [EFFECTIVE 09/01/17]

04/10/17

US District Court’s Voter ID Ruling Takes Center Stage at Texas Capitol

Where was I when the Corpus Christi US District Court ruled Texas intentionally discriminated with the 2011 voter ID law? Sitting in the April 10th House Elections Committee in a public hearing on the current Voter ID bills under consideration.  With me were other voting rights advocates – some involved directly in the continuing lawsuit saga begun in 2011 -- and others not so supportive of voting rights.

One of the architects and primary proponents of Voter ID in 2011, State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg chaired the Elections Committee last session and continues to be chair in the 85th Session. She also laid out HB 2481 (and CSSB 2481) by Rep. Phil King for him, because of his illness.

Ironically, the Texas Attorney General office attorneys were called to explain the details of Senate Bill 5/House Bill 2481, because of Rep. King’s absence. As the explanations began, the audience began getting notices on their mobile devices about today’s court ruling. Before the end of the public hearing discussion, the AG’s first deputy assistant Brantley Starr was already dismissive of the court ruling that could put Texas back on the list of states needing preclearance for changing election laws.

News alerts announced the ruling late today and indicated it would almost certainly be appealed. There is no need for “almost” in that observation.

The AG’s first deputy assistant Brantley Starr told the Election Committee members he believes the full appeals court will overturn US District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos’ ruling because of the new Voter ID bill that will be passed this session showing good faith by including almost everything dictated by Judge Ramos’ previous order.

In today’s Elections Committee meeting, the substitute bill for HB 2481 offered is identical to SB 5 as engrossed by the Senate. That bill mimics most of Ramos’ court-dictated Voter ID provisions for the November 2016 election, but leaves out some items and adds or amends others. Major items we and most others requested be added include:

We are still digesting the 10-page court ruling released today, and how it affects elections prior to the conclusion of the AG’s next appeal of the ruling. A copy of the full ruling is here.

03/23/17

ACTION CONTINUES

 

The bills are filed, committees are meeting and the first voting and elections bills are moving. No extremely bad bills have moved yet, but the session is young. Mixed signals are floating around the Capitol about the possibilities of passage of online voter registration this session. NOW, is definitely the time to let your personal representatives know by personal call, letter, or email how you feel about it. If you can generate authentic messages to your Senator and State Representative, it could definitely make a difference. More importantly, get your County officials to contact members and share the impact passage would have on their budgets and operations, as well as integrity of the voter registration rolls.

 

Senate Action

SB 5, the Voter ID bill by Sen. Joan Huffman was heard in the Senate State Affairs Committee she chairs on March 13th with final approval given to the substitute bill March 14th. We testified ON the bill choosing to neither support nor oppose it. Chair Huffman was not open to amendments in the Committee. The only item changed in the substitute from the original filed bill is the addition of the voter’s registration number (VUID) on the declaration of impediment form. We and others called for a lessening of the 3rd degree felony penalty for executing a form with false information, use of IDs expired up to four years and clarification of the acceptable residential address that can be used. We and others also voiced support for additional photo ID options. We expect amendments to be offered on the Senate Floor on most if not all of these suggestions. The bill was placed on the Senate Intent Calendar on March 22nd. It carries no fiscal impact statement, even though it calls for a system of Secretary of State mobile outreach to provide Election Identification Certificates.  

 

To summarize, the bill codifies most all of the Voter ID court order with some minor exceptions. It allows voters without one of the photo IDs that continue to be in play, to sign a declaration of impediment for the same reasons as in the court order, other than the open-ended option, and to use the same alternative forms of ID. Just as in the court order, those who have one of the seven forms of photo ID must use it. If they have one and do not present it, a provisional ballot will be necessary.

 

 

House Action

State. Rep. Phil King filed the SB 5 companion bill, HB 2481 on February 27th and it was referred to the Elections Committee March 21st. Joint authors include Representatives Jodie Laubenberg (Elections Committee Chair), Charlie Geren, Tan Parker and Scott Sanford.]

On March 9th, the House Corrections Committee was the first to take up voting and elections bills in the 85th Session. Following our identical testimony in SUPPORT of both HB 187 by Rep. Harold Dutton and HB 260 by Rep. Eric Johnson, that codify the reported current practice of the prisons and parole department presenting formerly incarcerated persons with voter registration applications and information on voting, upon their final release from the criminal justice system, HB 187 by Dutton was approved without amendment on March 16th. HB 260 is still pending in committee.

The House Elections Committee met March 13th to consider bills. The League offered testimony in SUPPORT of HB 450 by Rep. Pat Fallon that would allow use of mobile phones in the polling place to use downloaded information, such as the LWV Voters Guides. CSSB 450 was approved by the Committee March 20th . The only change is prohibition of the mobile device for photography or recording in the polling place.

On March 13th, we also registered support of Rep. Diego Bernal’s HB 199 that would allow all counties to consider use of a countywide polling place program. It too was approved, without amendment, March 20th. We registered OPPOSITION to Rep. Greg Bonnen’s HB 1462, allowing fewer hours of operation at temporary branch polling places and restricting movement of mobile polling, but it was approved following the public hearing.

 

HOT ISSUES

 

Online Voter Registration

We continue promotion of online voter registration, often called the only truly nonpartisan voting/elections topic. HB 143 by Rep. Celia Israel is the bill with the most support to date. There are 24 co-authors. Electronic voter registration will improve our system in many ways. As of Feb. 28th, each of the statewide voting and elections organizations adopted unanimous resolutions of support for OVR: Texas Association of Elections Administrators, Tax Assessor-Collectors Association of Texas and County and District Clerks’ Association of Texas. A very positive opinion piece was included in the March 6th edition of the Texas Tribune penned by Austin tech leader Bryan Jones, “Why Can’t Texans Register to Vote Online?”  Jones is a member of the Austin Technology Council’s Policy Coalition.

 

We continue to request League member assistance in promoting factual information about online registration and encourage support in your communities. For example, the Dallas League worked to get a Dallas County Commissioners Court resolution of support that is tentatively scheduled later this month. Add your own name to the growing list of OVR supporters today, if you haven’t already. Share the opportunity with all of your friends on Facebook or through any other opportunities you engage in. You are able to also catch up on the facts about the benefits of OVR by visiting the collaborative website. Check out the ‘Get the Facts’ drop-down menu for facts and quotes about bipartisanship support and impact.  There is a one-sheet summary that you can use to share the information with Legislative staffers and other supporters. This could also be quite helpful as you talk to your local leaders and educate them on the topic.

03/12/17

ACTION BEGINS

 

March 13th marks the first day that Legislators begin the debate on voting or elections bills in the Senate State Affairs Committee and the House Elections Committee.

 

Senate Action

One of the last of Lt. Governor Patrick’s priority bills to be introduced,  SB 5 is the Voter ID bill by Sen. Joan Huffman). The bill was filed Feb. 21st by Huffman, Chair of the State Affairs Committee. It was referred to that committee the next day and will be considered in public hearing on the 13th. The League is offering testimony ON the bill choosing to neither support nor oppose it. Our comments will commend the bill for incorporating most of the U.S. District Court-ordered process used in the November 2016 election, obviously recognizing that the 2011 bill disenfranchised voters. We will call for incorporating the remaining court order items: use of IDs expired up to four years and clarification of the acceptable residential address that can be used. We will also voice support for additional photo ID options and lessening of the penalties called for in SB 5 for the improper use of the impediment declaration. See below for a copy of the full testimony after its presentation.

 

Following introduction of SB 5, Attorney General Paxton filed a request to delay the Feb. 28th scheduled Corpus Christi federal court hearing on the Voter ID case until after the legislative session. The new U.S. Department of Justice supported that request. The hearing went on as scheduled. The work left to the Corpus Christi court is whether or not the 2011 bill intentionally disenfranchised voters. Some insiders expect a ruling before the end of the legislative session, and of course, the State’s immediate appeal.

 

Following Chair Huffman’s lead, State. Rep. Phil King filed the SB 5 companion bill, HB 2481 on February 27th. It has yet to be referred to committee. Joint authors include Representatives Jodie Laubenberg (Elections Committee Chair), Charlie Geren, Tan Parker and Scott Sanford.

 

House Action

In the House, the Elections Committee is meeting at 2 pm March 13th for the first time since its organizational meeting Feb. 27th. The League will offer testimony in SUPPORT of HB 450 by Rep. Pat Fallon that will allow use of mobile phones in the polling place to use downloaded information. With the rapidly increasing use of mobile phones downloading and referring to the League’s Voters Guides, we believe this a positive action. We know that hundreds of thousands of Texans who downloaded the VGs for their use.

 

We will be registering SUPPORT for Rep. Diego Bernal’s HB 199 that would allow all counties to consider use of a countywide polling place program. We will register OPPOSITION to Rep. Greg Bonnen’s HB 1462, allowing fewer hours of operation at temporary branch polling places.

 

On March 9th, the House Corrections Committee was the first to take up voting and elections bills in the 85th Session. We presented identical testimony in SUPPORT of both HB 187 by Rep. Harold Dutton and HB 260 by Rep. Eric Johnson. Both bills codify the reported current practice of the prisons and parole department presenting formerly incarcerated persons with voter registration applications and information on voting, upon their final release from the criminal justice system. The testimony is posted below this blog.

 

HOT ISSUES

We are in the process of catching up with the multitude of bills filed last week before the deadline for introducing bills on March 10th. There are definitely bills in that big pile that could negatively affect Texas voting rights, and will get added to our monitoring list.

 

Online Voter Registration

We continue to promote passage of online voter registration, often called the only truly nonpartisan voting/elections topic. Electronic voter registration will improve our system in many ways. As of Feb. 28th, each of the statewide voting and elections organizations adopted unanimous resolutions of support for OVR: the Texas Association of Elections Administrators, Tax Assessor-Collectors Association of Texas and County and District Clerks’ Association of Texas. A very positive opinion piece was included in the March 6th edition of the Texas Tribune penned by Austin tech leader Bryan Jones, “Why Can’t Texans Register to Vote Online?”  Jones is a member of the Austin Technology Council’s Policy Coalition.

 

We continue to request League member assistance in promoting factual information about online registration and encourage support in your communities. For example, the Dallas League worked to get a Dallas County Commissioners Court resolution of support that is tentatively scheduled later this month. Add your own name to the growing list of OVR supporters today, if you haven’t already. Share the opportunity with all of your friends on Facebook or through any other opportunities you engage in. You are able to also catch up on the facts about the benefits of OVR by visiting the collaborative website. Check out the ‘Get the Facts’ drop-down menu for facts and quotes about bipartisanship support and impact.  There is a one-sheet summary that you can use to share the information with Legislative staffers and other supporters. This could also be quite helpful as you talk to your local leaders and educate them on the topic.

2/23/17

GETTING INTO GEAR

In the past week, the only major voting/elections bill activity in the two chambers is the introduction of Lt. Governor Patrick’s Voter ID bill – SB 5. We’ve known the number since he announced his Session priorities in January. The bill was filed Feb. 21 by Sen. Joan Huffman, Chair of the State Affairs Committee where it is certain to be heard. SB 5 has 19 additional Primary Authors -- every Senate Republican member.

 

SB 5 incorporates the court-ordered compromise process used in the November 2016 election. That means that those unable to obtain one of the seven photo IDs could sign an impediment form claiming they were unable to obtain an ID. SB 5 also calls for mobile units to be used to encourage more DPS-issued election IDs. It also creates harsh criminal penalties for those who falsely claim they need to choose from the expanded list of options. The Texas Tribune presents a good bill overview here. Following the bill’s introduction, Attorney General Paxton has filed a request to delay the Feb. 28th scheduled Corpus Christi federal court hearing on Voter ID until after the legislative session.

 

In the House, the Elections Committee is set for its organizational meeting at 2 pm Monday Feb. 27. Elections Committee Vice Chair Rep. Celia Israel has already been busy, with already 24 co-sponsors on HB 143 to establish online voter registration. Since she hit the 75 co-sponsor mark last session on her HB 76, perhaps her sights are set on getting 142 co-sponsors of the 150-member body this session.

 

HOT ISSUES

We are following all of the bills that could negatively affect Texas voting rights, but are concentrating our energy on those that can have a significant positive impact on voter registration. This is online voter registration, often called the one truly nonpartisan voting/elections topic by leaders in all of the political parties. We will continue to request League members and supporters to take action to support the effort. In the meantime, catch up on the facts about the benefits of OVR by visiting the collaborative website at txovr.com. Check out the ‘Get the Facts’ drop-down menu for facts and quotes about bipartisanship support and impact.  There is a one-sheet summary that you can use to share the information with Legislative staffers and other supporters.

 

BILL REPORTS

We are picking up where we left off last week to list the major bills. New bills of note and any actions taken since our previous posting, are noted in red on the lists below. As we noted last week, most of the topics are the same 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 225 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. Each week we will keep you informed as bills are referred to committees and see action.

 

Bills reported here rise to the top, but there are a significant number of other bills that could have a positive, but less dramatic effect. Abbreviations for the committee referrals are included if they have been made. Some are still awaiting referral to committee. Most are under consideration in either the House Elections Committee [E] or Senate State Affairs Committee [SA].

 

Potentially 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 [24 co-authors]– 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 [E] & SB 232 by Menendez [SA] and HB 1006 by Alonzo Providing same day registration

·         HB 910 by Romero, Jr. – Allowing Volunteer Deputy Registrars to perform duties in all counties [E]

·         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 [SA], SB 231 by Menendez [SA] & HB 70 by Minjarez.[E]]

 

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 [SA] and HB 2202 by Vo– Allowing use of photo IDs issued by public universities and the state

·         SB 643 by Watson -- Putting into law the voter ID details provided by the court system [SA]

·         SB 5 by Huffman & all GOP Senators – Putting into law the voter ID details provided by the courts plus stiffer felony penalties for violations [SA]

·         HB 1173 [E] & HB 1213 by Nevarez [E] – Allowing photo IDs issued by tribal entities

 

Elections Administration

·         SB 144 by Garcia [SA] & HB 450 by Fallon [E] – Allowing mobile devices in the voting booth to read election information (Note: such as the LWV Voters Guides)

·         SB 230 by Menendez [SA] & HB 199 by Bernal [E] – 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 [State & Federal Power & Responsibility, Select] – 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 [E] – Allows email correspondence about vote by mail applications

·         HB 961 by Justin Rodriguez [Higher Ed] – 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]

 

Youth Vote

·         SB 145 by Garcia [SA] & HB 266 by Hernandez [E]– Requiring high school senior voter education & opportunities to register to vote

·         SB 150 by Garcia [SA], SB 187 by Uresti [SA], HB 368 by Howard [E] & HJR 31 by Howard [E]– Allowing registration at age 17 and participation in primary elections if age 18 by the uniform November election date

·         HB 1195 by Swanson [Public Ed] – Requiring a civics standard test for all graduating high school seniors with questions similar to naturalization test

 

Potentially Negative Bills

There are quite a few negative or potentially negative bills, and many more for which a designation can’t be determined until the bills proceed and further research is done by LWV and other voting rights groups.

 

Voter Registration

·         HB 530 by Schofield – Prohibits delivery of voter registration cards during the 30 days before an election [E]

·         HB 905 by Rick Miller – Requires citizenship document be presented with the registration form [E]

 

Voter Photo ID

·         HB 384 by Murphy – Requires a photo on each voter registration card [E]

·         SB 5 by Huffman & 19 other primary authors – Lt. Gov. Patrick’s “Voter ID” bill [Note, it is listed as both potentially positive and negative – regardless, it is very likely to be approved in the Senate.]

·         SB 136 by Van Taylor [SA] & HB 1079 by Schofield [E]– Onerous proof of citizenship requirements

 

Elections Administration

·         SB 702 by Huffines – Requires voting by 33 percent of registered voters in any jurisdiction’s bond election for the vote to be valid [Intergovernmental Affairs]

·         SB 703 by Huffines [SA]  Forbids mobile early voting for bond issue elections

·         HB 288 by Keough [E], – Reduction in number of early voting days

·         HB 531 by Schofield – Limitations on assistance that can be provided to those requesting vote by mail ballots and related penalties [E]

·         HB 534 by Schofield – Bill would reinstitute law overruled by the courts regarding voter assistance at the polling place [E]

·         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

2/13/17

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

HOT ISSUES

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:

 

Voter Registration

·         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]

 

Elections Administration

·         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

1/26/17

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.

1/24/17

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.

 

Session Overview

 

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]