Over the last several years, Texas has received extensive attention for its partisan-driven efforts to limit access to the democratic process. This year is no different in the Red state that features a Legislature that is fiercely pushing a controversial photo voter ID law and a voter ID-supportive governor who is also a rumored presidential hopeful. But Texas’ assault on democracy doesn’t just begin with voter ID, it starts with voter registration and the groups that facilitate voter registration between the citizen and the government.
Across the nation, an estimated 28 million citizens rely on community-based voter registration drives to register to vote for the first time or update their registration whenever they move.
According to the 2008 Current Population Survey, nine million citizens reported having registered through a “voter registration drive.” But, “This likely seriously undercounts the total impact of voter registration drives, however, as 9.4 million citizens…reported that they registered ‘at a school, hospital, or on campus’—all locations where voter registration drives are often conducted by civic organizations and student groups,” wrote Doug Hess and Jody Herman in Project Vote report, Representational Bias in the 2008 Electorate.
Another 9.7 million registered to vote through mail-in voter registration applications, many of whom presumably received these applications from voter registration drives or organizations that distributed the forms through the postal or electronic mail.
A number of these citizens are likely underrepresented young and low-income citizens who move more frequently and are required to update their registration more regularly.
However, since 2008, voter registration drives have been placed under an unprecedented amount of scrutiny and restriction that appears to be less about preventing voter registration fraud and more about simply erasing these drives—that millions of Americans rely upon—from existence.
Currently, the Texas House is considering overwrought, unsound bills that would do more harm than good. Rather than focusing on regulating the quality of registration cards submitted to the registrar, these bills focus on the community organization’s employment standards.
House bills 239, 1269, and 1270 would put onerous government regulations on voter registration drives’ ability to manage their own employees in the hiring and firing process. Poorly drafted, HB 239 attempts to prevent an employer from terminating an employee that fails to maintain a minimum standard of performance. In this case, it attempts to make it a felony to fire an employee because the employee does not collect a minimum number of applications. However, since that minimum could be one, the bill in effect requires an employer to continue to pay an employee who is so incompetent that he could not collect one application during a six-hour shift.
Unlike a reasonable rule to eliminate paying canvassers per application to prevent fraudulent activity,HB 239 stops employers from setting basic standards to ensure basic productivity. Further, the bill appears to give dishonest employees legal leverage: by making it a felony to fire an employee for not meeting standards, the government will be making it more difficult to fire any employee, even one suspected of fraud.
Adding to the counterproductive regulations on voter registration drives, HB 1269 and HB 1270 put arbitrary restrictions on who may be a deputy registrar, requiring them to be registered Texas residents, for example. These types of measures restrict the employee pool to the state of Texas only. For national groups that run these drives, this means the best workers in the country cannot be considered, debilitating the effectiveness of a drive.
None of these bills result in substantial benefits to the government that cannot be attained through cooperation with voter registration groups and the application of current laws. Applications submitted by voter registration drives are no more problematic than those from other sources: for example, rejection rates of applications submitted by Motor Vehicle Departments, Public Assistance Agencies, and other sources are often as high or higher than rejection rates from voter registration drives.
House Bills 239, 1269, and 1270 are unwise and counterproductive exercises of the legislative process. They should be soundly defeated, and then a serious dialogue about how to ensure honest and effective voter registration drives can begin.