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.”
“We can work with them, educate them and encourage them, but we don’t have any statutory enforcement power,” Pierce said, adding that while the office has not fully reviewed the report they “are always willing to work with interested groups to improve the voter registration process.”
Despite the TCRP’s claims that registration applications were improperly handled, Pierce said Texas registered a record number of voters — more than 13.6 million — leading up to the 2012 election.
But Harrington said the secretary of state did not conduct sufficient “get out the vote” campaigns to encourage voter registration and maintained no effective follow-up with state agencies.
“A lot of this, I think, goes back and lays at the feet of the secretary of state and his election division administrator in not working with counties to develop uniform voter registration processes, not working with school districts to make sure they’re enrolling as many students as possible and not following up with the agencies,” Harrington said.
“Our office continues to work to increase that number through voter education campaigns and partnerships with other state agencies and stakeholder groups,” she said.
The report also lists among the problems with Texas voting procedures, a lack of cross-county certification for voter registrars and the inability to voters to register electronically at the local level. Additionally, the TCRP argues that Texas high schools are not registering students of voting age at least twice a year, as required by law.
Coupled with the implementation of the state’s controversial voter ID law, the report found that faulty voter registration processes place an additional burden on voters.
Harrington said the TCRP plans to take the report to state legislators and urge them to address problematic voter registration procedures during the 2015 legislative session.