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Who enforces voter registration requirements?

My guess upon reading this is in effect nobody.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A combination of lax enforcement in the state’s election code, a faulty voter registration system and lack of leadership by state election officials have led to the disenfranchisement of thousands of Texans who faced challenges while registering to vote in the 2012 elections, according to a report the Texas Civil Rights Project released on Monday.

The TCRP’s report largely focused on what the organization calls a problematic lack of enforcement power in the office of the state’s top election official, the secretary of state, and calls on the Legislature to amend the Texas Election Code to give officials there the ability to enforce voter registration procedures at the state and local levels. The Texas secretary of state’s office said that while it does not have enforcement authority, it does educate and work with entities that carry out voter registration and ensure that voters are able to cast ballots.

The report outlines several recommendations to improve voter registration, including additional oversight of state agencies that are required by law to register individuals who apply for state services.

“Sometimes the election code is a paper title,” TCRP director Jim Harrington said at a press conference on Monday, adding that the Texas secretary of state’s office, which oversees state elections, is not effectively using its “bully pulpit,” as it has in the past, to deal with the increased amount of noncompliance.

Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the Texas secretary of state’s office, said the agency is not an enforcement agency and “has no authority to compel another agency to take specific actions.”

You can find a copy of the report here. A quick highlight of what the Texas Civil Rights Project found:

1. Lackadaisical leadership by the Texas Secretary of State John Steen and his Elections Division Director Keith Ingram, including:

a. No effective register-to-vote campaigns, including in the state’s 10 various language communities;

b. No effective follow up with high school administrators to assure their compliance with the law in registering of-age students to vote (see Finding No. 2, below);

c. No effective follow up with state agencies to assure their compliance with the law to register voters when they apply for services (see Finding No. 4, below);

d. Lack of leadership in helping create standard, uniform Voluntary Voter Registrar processes among the counties (see Findings Nos. 3 and 5, below).

2. Failure of high schools to comply with the law in registering of-age students as voters, as they are required to do by law.

3. Lack of cross-county voter registrars such that a Voluntary Voter Registrars have to be certified in each county they register voters (and subject to widely different qualifications in each county), even where a city would overlap into different counties.

4. Lack of agency registration of voters, when they apply for services, as required by law. Seven agencies and governmental entities are mandated by statute to register voters, and the Secretary is empowered to require others to do the same.

5. Extraordinary slow recording of voter registrations by local county registrars and the Secretary of State (some of which is due to lack of electronic transfer of registrations).

6. Lack of uniform receipt for voters when they register so that they can use them when voting in case their registration has not been recorded.

7. Failure of the Texas Education Agency to encourage and promote voter registration and education for of-age students.

8. Lack of effective statutory remedies in the Election Code for noncompliance with legal requirements.

I’m sure the answer to my question above is that any enforcement of state laws regarding voter registration requirements would fall to the Attorney General – I believe the SOS when they say they’re not an enforcement agency. The AG’s office is, at least for civil law. Can you imagine Greg Abbott sending a stern letter to a County Clerk or elections administrator somewhere, threatening to take legal action against them if they didn’t comply with these processes? I’m having a hard time picturing it. It’s the opposite of what he cares about and it does nothing to advance his political agenda. So yeah, I’m sure these items have been a problem for some time now. And while it’s great that the Texas Civil Rights Project have brought them to life, that’s about all that can be done.

Well, it’s possible there may be things that can be done via the courts, if it comes to that. Along those lines, here are the most recent updates on the voter ID litigation, via Texas Redistricting:

State of Texas files final brief on effort to dismiss voter ID suits

New claims in the Texas voter ID litigation

Court denies request of True the Vote to intervene in Texas voter ID case

State of Texas files motions to dismiss voter ID claims of intervenors

True the Vote appeals decision not to let it into Texas voter ID case

It would be nice if Congress could step in an address the issues in the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court invented found, but that seems unlikely. People are still working on it, however, and I feel confident that there’s another big national battle over voting rights and accessibility coming. Here’s a press release I received from State Rep. Garnet Coleman about one of these ongoing efforts:

STATE LEGISLATORS FORGE POLICY AGENDA TO GUIDE VOTING RIGHTS LEGISLATIVE INITIATIVES ACROSS THE U.S.

– Leaders Seek to Transcend Partisan Differences, Emphasis Need to Preserve Voting Rights, Promote Voting Participation for All Americans –

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Marking an important milestone in fulfilling American Values First’s vision for its nationwide Voting Rights Project, a select group of legislators comprising the Project’s Task Force met in Washington, DC to develop the following policy agenda to guide legislative efforts in all 50 states:

* Modernizing the registration process

* Removing barriers to ballot access

* Addressing inefficiencies in the electoral system

* Improving voter education

* Increasing participation of eligible voters

* Ensuring that certain communities – students, seniors, rural voters, etc. – aren’t prevented from exercising their constitutional rights because of outdated processes that don’t account for today’s technology

This Voting Rights Policy Agenda includes a range of initiatives that can be implemented in the states as legislators deem appropriate.

Below a statement from Michael Sargeant, President American Values First Voting Rights Project

“Today’s summit brought together legislators to share the success and challenges they have experienced in their respective states, so that they can use those experiences to craft a vision for their own states,” said Michael Sargeant, President of American Values First.

“Incremental gains are possible in all 50 states, and as members of the Task Force return to their home states, this strategy will produce more examples of success that can be adopted across the United States.”

“Our goal is to empower state legislators nationwide to protect the rights of all eligible American citizens to vote,” said Michael Sargeant, President of American Values First. “Some states are already having this important debate; others seek incremental gains to improve voting laws in a way that fully enfranchises their citizens. Events like today’s will help to fulfill the promise of the Voting Rights Project.”

This first Task Force Policy Summit on Voting Rights was organized by the non-profit American Values First to foster discussion, share information and exchange ideas about the challenges lawmakers will have to overcome and opportunities in state legislative chambers to protect the rights of eligible American citizens to vote.

The summit comes at a critical time when states have aggressively and swiftly adopted laws that create barriers to the voting booth. The Brennan Center for Justice says these laws disproportionately affect seniors, military personnel, low-income citizens, the disabled, minorities and students.

American Values First is a non-profit organization that created the Voting Rights Project to engage state legislators in preserving the right to vote even as states endeavor to weaken voting rights protections.

See here and here for more. It’s discouraging to still be fighting these battles after fifty years, but there it is. We can complain about it all we want, but it’s engagement that will make the difference.

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