Explanation: Election Laws, Voting Rights
The right of every citizen to vote is a principle of the League of Women Voters. The 1976 national Convention delegates adopted voting rights as an integral part of the national program. This added impetus to the LWVTX position and provided additional ways for Leagues to take action through vertical programming.
In 1991 the LWVUS Board of Directors launched the campaign to "Take Back the System" as the top priority of the League. Included in this campaign was a major grassroots effort to pass the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), finally passed by Congress in 1993. The LWV believes the legislature should be given the responsibility and the necessary authority to build a statutory framework essential for a proper electoral system. The specific details of election administration are thus left to legislation.
During the LWVTX periodic program review of 1998-99, the positions dealing with election laws which had been part of "Political Campaign Process" were moved to be part of "Election Laws and Voting Rights," where they seems to fit more logically.
At Convention 2008 a study of "Voting Procedures to Increase Voter Participation" was adopted. A Facts & Issues, consisting of five separate papers, was distributed to members electronically. Consensus on several issues was achieved and was added to our position in 2010.
History: Election Laws, Voting Rights
1985-86 A bill recodifying the election code was passed by the 1985 Texas Legislature; it became effective January 1, 1986. The recodification was a result of more than a year's work by the Joint House-Senate Select Committee on Election Code Revision and its advisory committee. The LWVTX was represented on the advisory committee and actively supported the recodification bill during the. With passage of the legislation, the LWVTX position on recodification was achieved after many years of advocacy. Therefore delegates to the 1987 Convention voted to drop the position.
In addition to eliminating obsolete matter and clarifying some ambiguous provisions, the recodification addressed several of our other positions, including: mandatory uniform training for all election personnel; supervision of all local elections by a single county election official responsible to a single state authority; protection of secrecy of the ballot; and restoration of voting rights to ex-felons 2 years after completion of probation, parole, or mandatory supervision.
1987-89 During the 1987 Texas Legislative Session, the League supported a bill providing for conjointly operated primaries, which failed to pass. A bill requiring agency-based voter registration passed the legislature but was vetoed by the governor. In 1989 the League supported an omnibus voter registration bill that included voter registration when a person applies for a driver's license or personal identification card ("motor voter"), a change in the purge date, and changes in the method of verification by computer. This legislation passed the Texas Senate but died in the Texas House.
1991 The 1991 session of the legislature was a productive one for voting rights issues. A motor voter bill was introduced and strongly supported by the League. Although it appeared to be progressing well, in the waning hours of the session its sponsor withdrew the bill from House consideration when it appeared that strong opposition to the method of funding was certain to kill the bill. However, a similar bill passed quietly through the first special session as a small addendum to the weighty bill reorganizing the Texas Highway Department and the Department of Aviation into the new Texas Department of Transportation. Thus without fanfare, Texas joined the vanguard of states with motor voter legislation in place.
Additionally, the League supported legislation to extend hours of early (formerly "absentee") voting in person in counties with a population of 100,000 or more, and in counties of 4000,000 or more to provide additional places for early voting. This bill eventually passed. Other successful bills supported by the League included one that amends the voter application form by identifying the "county in which applicant resides and intends to vote." Another bill broadens the jury source to include all those who have a valid driver's license or personal identification card issues by the Department of Public Safety.
1993 In 1993 two bills were introduced which would have facilitated voter accessibility to the electoral process by permitting voter registration at all state agencies dealing directly with the public and allowing election day registration at polling places. The League supported these measures and countered opponents' arguments with evidence that similar laws in other states do not encourage fraudulent practices. The bills died in committee.
In the study of the Political Campaign Process in Texas (1991-93), League members reached consensus in support of changes in election laws to shorten the election cycle. The League believes that a shorter cycle would reduce the cost of campaigning and lessen the pressure on candidates to raise enormous amounts of money. A sorter election cycle was also one of the Texas Ethics Commission's recommendations to the 73rd Texas Legislature. There was some discussion of this recommendation in committee hearings during the 1993 session, but the topic did not gain sufficient momentum for serious consideration
1994-95 The LWVTX voting rights efforts during this period focused on assuring full implementation of the National Voting Rights Act (NVRA) in Texas. The national motor voter law, which went into effect January 1995, extends Texas' previously enacted motor voter law by providing for voter registration at additional government agencies, including those that serve people with disabilities or provide public assistance. Bills enacted in the 1995 Texas Legislative Session established implementation procedures hat have brought Texas into full compliance with the federal statute.
A League representative served on the state NVRA Task Force, appointed by the secretary of state, charged with assisting Texas to achieve the NRVA goals. The League continued to monitor agencies to ensure that the process is fully implemented and that it works. As we monitor agencies, we hope to learn: Are individuals asked about voter registration? Are voter registration applications readily available? Is assistance offered in completing voter registration applications?
Our position on voting rights is an important way of helping to achieve the purpose of the LWV to encourage citizens to participate in their government. The League will continue to take action to support the right of every eligible citizen to vote. Though many of the improvements called for in our positions have been implemented, we retain some positions to enable us to act should these rights be threatened, as the following two examples illustrate. In one case, many counties have central election authorities, but many legislators are no comfortable with this arrangement. In the second case, the League believes that a declaration of party affiliation is detrimental to the establishment of a strong two-party system in Texas. Year-round registration with no fee and no party declaration has been I effect for some time in Texas. However, there remain those who would like to see this undone, so we retain our position. In summary, much work for secure voting rights remains, though progress is being made.
2001 After disappointments in several past sessions, both houses of the legislature passed, and the governor signed into law, a bill that removed at least 3 of 10 exemptions from the Election Code that provides for four uniform election dates. "This is a bill whose time has come" was the focus of League testimony and work with a special statewide Uniform Election Dates Coalition. This reform has been long in coming. A major exemption, and one that created the most controversy, that of school bond elections, has been curtailed. Two of the dates have also been changed to the first Saturday in February and the second Saturday in September. A bill that would have consolidated polling places when several governmental entities conduct elections failed to pass.
2003 The legislature passed and the Governor signed a bill that implements the Help American Vote Act (HAVA). The LWVUS and the LWVTX have been actively involved in HAVA since its inception. Following federal guidelines, the state HAVA bill requires the state to expand the size of its voter registration application to include space for additional requirements and additional voter instructions. It also requires the state to create a statewide, computerized voter registration system that will be the official database for al voter registration purposes. It sets up an administrative complaint process; develops and implements a provisional voter program; places a Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) device in each polling place for disabled voters; creates additional instructional information for voters, including a voter's bill of rights; and launches a voter education program. The state HAVA legislation includes no state funds, but provides the legal basis for the state to appropriate funds that will be provided by the federal government. Much of the funding will be transferred to county governments to enable them to satisfy new federal mandates.
The most significant change in this legislation for Texas is going from the current system of challenge ballots to one of provisional ballots. This means that any ballot cast by voters who can't prove (by affidavit) that they are registered, would go to a board that would determine if the ballot should be counted. The bill contains detailed procedures for determining eligibility, how that ballots are handled, how they are counted, disposition, etc. Because of the additional time required for this review, the time period for holding runoff elections will be extended from 3 to 4 weeks.
The legislature also dealt with other election issues such as uniform election dates, tightening loopholes and developing methods for electronic filing and transfer of campaign data, posting and publicizing a list of voter's rights, and removing the postage paid from the voter registration card. Legislation giving all persons completing a felony sentence voter information at the completion of their sentence, when they in fact become eligible to register to vote, did not pass.
2005 Many election law changes were proposed in the 79th Session. Five of the bills signed into law related to our positions. HB 57 reduced the number of elections dates from four to two. Reducing the number of election dates is a long-held LWVTX position. The bill eliminated the February and September elections and changed the May election to the second Saturday. The November election date remains the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. The bill laid out the procedures for early voting in May and for making the transition to the May and November elections.
The issue of a recountable voting system did not have support. (For the position on electronic voting adopted by the LWVUS Convention 2006, see Impact on Issues.) The closest Texas came to addressing direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines was making tampering with DREs a 3rd degree felony.
HB 2465 dealt with public hearings on approval of electronic voting machines. The LWVTX strongly supported an amendment to this bill that would have strengthened the bill by requiring testing methods such as electronic hash code testing before and after the election, parallel testing f programming and equipment during the early voting and post election periods, and verification counts from each redundant electronic source provided by the voting system. The amendment failed and Texas was left with weak protection from fraud in connection with DREs.
Two other bills that addressed ease of voting issues: HB 120 related to using regular polling places even if the regular polling place of the election precinct is not located wholly in the political subdivision holding the election; and HB 2454 would allow a registered voter who has resided in a new county for less than 90 days to vote a limited ballot.
There was a strong push for legislation to require a photo ID at the polls (the LWVTX was part of a coalition that worked against this bill, and it died in committee), and there will be a strong push in 2007 to adopt a photo ID bill. During the interim there will be a focus by the attorney general’s office on potential voter fraud.
HAVA implementation proceeded on schedule. The LWVTX continued to meet with the secretary of state to keep up to date on HAVA progress in Texas while offering assistance that would be needed to implement the reforms.
2007 Five bills regarding the ballot and elections supported by the LWVTX passed and were signed by the governor. They are: SB 90 related to establishment of a pilot program to provide a ballot by electronic mail to military personnel serving overseas; HB 629 related to the consolidation of elections; HB 2823 related to voting by a person who applied for a ballot by mail; a voter can request a provisional ballot if they did not receive their ballot by mail; HB 3105 related to a program allowing for countywide voting locations for elections.
HB 770 requiring the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to give notice to certain persons for their right to vote, supported by the LWVTX, was passed by the legislature, but was vetoed by the governor. HB 218, the Voter ID bill opposed by LWVTX, was narrowly defeated when Senator Mario Gallegos, recovering from a liver transplant, was brought to the Capitol in a hospital bed to vote against the bill.
2009 After the 81st Legislature convened, the Senate changed the rules for passing a Voter ID bill (requiring a photo ID at the polls) from two thirds to three fifths. (The last time that the two-thirds rule was ignored was in 2003 when the Senate forced through the redistricting plan engineered by Tom DeLay.) This action signaled the start of the push to pass a Photo Voter ID Bill, SB 362, vigorously opposed by the LWVTX. The LWVTX sponsored two press conferences on this issue and participated in a third. At the last press conference we presented a two-page statement of Principles for Non-Partisan Voter Reform, a paper developed by the Election Reform Coalition of which the LWVTX is a member. The paper asked others to join with the coalition as we move forward using these principles to increase voter turnout. The Voter ID bill ultimately failed to pass. Toward the end of the we watched legislative procedural moves aimed at stopping it, among these chubbing or the putting intended obstacles in the way of voting for a bill. A special session was called and Voter ID was not included on that agenda.
SB 310, supported by LWVTX, allowing counties to have super precincts on Election Day, was added as an amendment to another bill and passed. It authorizes five counties to apply for a trial of super precincts. Issues that never made it out of committee included: rules regarding electronic voting machines, same-day registration, and procedures for voting. The governor vetoed one election bill supported by LWVTX that would have required the secretary of state to develop a system for accepting voter registration applications when the information provided by the voter does not match the identifying information for that individual in the records of the Department of Public Safety.
2009 was also the year that Texas finally ratified the 24th Amendment. Most states passed this 45 years ago. This was a symbolic stand against the poll tax.
2011 The LWVTX and the Election Reform Coalition were active in holding off voter photo ID legislation in previous sessions but were not successful in 2011, when photo ID was included in the emergency items designated by Governor Perry. The LWVTX participated in a press conference and testified against the bill at both House and Senate hearings. Nonetheless, the bill was signed into law on May 27. The secretary of state was given responsibilities to educate election workers and voters on the new requirements beginning September 2011. Voters must show one of a limited set of photo IDs to vote a regular ballot after January 1, 2012. As of the publication of this document this law is still pending.
Note. Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Texas is among the states required to obtain preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or courts before putting election law changes into effect. Texas sought preclearance of election law changes from DOJ. The LWVTX submitted written comments to DOJ raising questions about preclearance for voter photo ID and for the prohibition against performance-based decisions in voter registration efforts. The State of Texas has sued and the LWVTX has intervened against the state’s position. This case is expected to go to the U.S. Supreme Court as a challenge of the Voting Rights Act. As of June 2012 we don’t know if Voter ID will go into effect for the November 2012 election.
The LWVTX testified against requiring documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote, and this bill was not considered by the full House. While Texans will still be able to register to vote without providing proof of citizenship, most voters will need to provide documentary proof of citizenship to obtain or renew the forms of photo ID required to cast a regular ballot as of 2012.
The LWVTX supported the bill to bring Texas into compliance with the federal requirements for military and overseas voters. The bill was passed and signed by Governor Perry. Email transmission of ballot materials to military/overseas voters is allowed, but not electronic return. To provide the time required for preparation and return of ballot materials, candidate filing and runoff dates for spring primaries were changed. Because some county election officials would be unable to meet requirements for a May primary runoff in addition to local elections on the May uniform election date, the law allowed for changing local elections to the November uniform date.
A number of bills on which the LWVTX took positions failed either to make it out of committee or to pass both chambers. Bills the LWVTX supported that did not passinclude those on Election Day voter registration, voter suspense list procedures, allowing electronic voter registration for those with a valid Department of Public Safety driver’s license or ID, and adding Texas to the National Popular Vote Compact. Bills which the LWVTX opposed that did not passinclude those limiting the number of voters an individual could assist, allowing poll watchers to record images and sound, increasing penalties for untimely volunteer deputy registrars, and limiting volunteer deputy registrars to registered voters with 6 months of continuous state residence.
Two bills, HB 2194 and HB 2817, became more complex as they progressed through the legislature and, as passed, included both positive and negative provisions. They contain unnecessary restrictions on volunteer deputy registrars; also performance-based compensation and employment decisions are prohibited in voter registration efforts. On the positive side, the secretary of state was given authority to increase the number of counties participating in trials of countywide polling locations.
2013. As the League’s 2012-14 biennium began, the LWVTX was involved in litigation over preclearance of the photo ID requirement passed by the 2011 Legislature, SB 14 (Fraser), which LWVTX opposed. The LWVTX lobbied the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to deny preclearance and intervened supporting DOJ’s decision to deny preclearance when Texas sued for preclearance. The Washington, DC, court denied preclearance in late August 2012, so the requirement was not in effect for the November 2012 General Election. The State of Texas appeal of the denial was put on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court considered the Shelby County, Alabama, challenge to preclearance.
A number of positive bills on voter registration passed during the 2013 Regular Legislative Session and were signed by Governor Perry: SB 910 (Duncan) faxed voter registrations; HB 2465 (Farias) suspense status information online; and HB 3593 (Burnam) determining a voter is deceased.
Positive election bills that were passed and signed include: SB 160 (Huffman) poll watcher identification; SB 553 (Uresti) high school students as early voting clerks; and SB 578 (Duncan) countywide polling locations for primaries and runoffs. Several positive bills the LWVTX supported did not pass: HB 465 (Johnson) repeal of photo ID; SB 315 (Uresti) and HB 313 (Strama) online voter registration; HB 331 (Guillen) accepting voter registration from any eligible Texan; HB 2728 (Gutierrez) volunteer deputy voter registrar online training; HB 3081 (Wu) voting in a precinct of former residence; HB 1958 (S. Turner) curbside voting; and HB 2306 (S. Thompson) permanent mail ballots for some voters.
Significant bills the LWVTX opposed that did not pass include: HB 2093 (Harless) limiting early voting; HB 3049 (Springer) eliminating the May uniform election date; HB 966 (Murphy) voter registration residence address; and HB 3074 (R. Miller) proof of citizenship to register. HB 148 (Burkett) limiting assistance with mail ballots has become law but in its final form only limits payment for ballots mailed and does not otherwise limit assistance with mail ballots. Election law bills were filed in special sessions, but none were heard in committee.
In late June 2013, after the regular session, the U.S. Supreme Court announced the Shelby County decision striking down the Voting Rights Act (VRA) criteria for determining jurisdictions subject to preclearance. Texas immediately implemented the photo ID requirement passed in 2011. U.S. Representative Marc Veasey and others quickly filed a VRA Section 2 challenge to photo ID in the Corpus Christi federal court. Others, including the DOJ, have filed challenges raising constitutional and other legal issues in Corpus Christi and asked that Texas be bailed-in to preclearance under Section 3 of the VRA. Trial is scheduled for early September 2014 with the possibility of a decision prior to the November 2014 general election. In the meantime, the photo ID requirement remains in effect.
2015. As the League’s 2015-16 biennium began, the photo identification requirement lawsuit remained under consideration. The Corpus Christi federal court ruled in favor of U.S. Representative Veasey, yet there was no stay of the voter ID law during the State’s appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court. A Fifth Circuit Court three-judge panel met during the 84th Session on the case with no final outcome. Arguments included judicial questions asking why the Texas Legislature has not broadened the types of accepted photo IDs.
During the 84th Session of the Texas Legislature, eight bills were introduced to add acceptable IDs to the list acceptable for voting that died in committees without any hearing. Other IDs proposed included the addition of student photo IDs from public and private higher education institutions, Texas and federal government–issued photo IDs, expired Texas driver licenses, Veteran’s Administration health photo IDs, and any form of photo ID. The House Elections Committee allowed a hearing on only one bill that would allow tribal photo IDs, but it also died in committee without a vote.
Only one voter ID related bill, SB 982 (Bettencourt), passed into law. It provides a cost-free birth certificate for anyone in need of that document when applying for a Department of Public Safety photo ID. The only other voting/elections bill supported by LWVTX that passed during the 84th Session and was signed by Governor Abbott, made a variety of minor improvements all related to voting by mail. HB 1927 (Bonnen, Greg) requires vote by mail (VBM) be made available for all elections, regardless of the election’s administration (special districts, ISDs, etc.) and includes runoff elections; allows VBM applications to be submitted any time in the preceding year prior to an election; and allows VBM applications to be emailed.
The LWVTX supported a number of other positive bills that did not pass: providing online voter registration, HB 76 (Israel), HB 953 (Alvarado), both garnering one late session public hearing but no action; HB312 (Harless), HB 444 (Johnson), HB 446 (Johnson), and SB 385 (Uresti); broadening acceptable photo IDs, HB 535 (Nevárez), HB 295 (Canales), HB 447 (Johnson), SB 170 (Uresti), SB 230 (Watson), HB 534 (Nevárez), HB 536 (Nevárez), HB 733 (Israel), and HB 1117 (Martinez, "Mando"); improving the vote by mail process, HB 1198 (Israel), HB1540 (S Thompson), HB 913 (Israel), HB 954 (Alvarado), and SB 86 (Ellis).
The most significant bill the LWVTX opposed that did not pass was HB 1096 (Murphy) and its companion SB 984 (Bettencourt), calling for identical residential addresses on photo IDs and voter registration cards. HB 1096 was left languishing on the full Senate bill intent list on the final day it could be considered.
2017. The brief story of the 2017 Texas Legislative 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 that there is no "rampant voter fraud or impersonation" in our state or any other. Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor 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 a somewhat even-handed manner during the regular session, but was overturned in the special session. There was only 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 before elections.
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 online voter registration 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 coauthors and an abbreviated hearing in the House Elections Committee, but no vote. Neither HB 143, nor any other voter registration modernization bills received any action but referral to committee. Others included:
- HB 70 by Representatives Minjarez/Gullen, automatic registration
- HB 80 by Representative Alvarado, online voter registration
- HB 159 by Representative Dutton, optional county online voter registration
- HB 469 by Representative Eric Johnson, same day registration
- HB 955 by Representative J. Rodriguez, same day registration
- HB 1955 by Representative Reynolds, secretary of state online voter registration
Other positive voter registration bills were introduced and did not see any action. Among those:
- HB 910 by Representative Romero, allow volunteer deputy registrars to register voters in all counties
- HB 953 by Representative J. Rodriguez, requiring counties to contact registrants via email about application problems before rejecting the applications
- HB 1002 by Representative Israel, requiring the Department of Public Safety to provide receipts for voter registration
Voter ID. Legislators filed numerous bills to expand the types of photo voter identification. Only HB 1173 by Representative Nevarez, to add tribal ID cards, received a public hearing, and then was left to die in committee.
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 bill, HB 2481 by Representative King in the House Elections Committee. It then languished in the House Calendars Committee. On Sunday night, May 21st, Governor Abbott named is an "emergency matter for immediate consideration," and it was set for House floor action the following Tuesday. On June 1st 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 4-year expiration date for IDs and address matching issues) remained in the final adopted bill.
However, the Court is set to revisit the Issues 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 SB5's passage will be received. Placing Texas back under U.S Department of Justice preclearance for any election-related actions is a possibility, although U.S. Attorney General Sessions' Department of Justice idea of preclearance will likely be different than his predecessors.
2017 LWVTX actions. While our advocacy on online voter registration 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 passed and sent to the governor.
- HB 658 by Representative Bernal, originally introduced to provide priority treatment for voters with certain disabilities, and our support was based on 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. It was hailed as a major improvement by Governor Abbott, yet the provisions for residential care facility ballot by mail were repealed in the special session (see below).
- HB 961 by Representative J. Rodriguez, allows the option of plurality voting for junior/community college trustees (other than Blinn College). Governor Abbott vetoed the bill.
- HB 999 by Representative Israel, unless otherwise required by statue, requires water district officer/board elections on the May uniform election date. Signed by Governor Abbot, effective September 1, 2017.
- HB 2324 by Representative Israel, allows individuals or volunteer deputy registrars to turn in voter registration applications to county offices the day after the deadline 30 days prior to elections. Signed by Governor Abbot, effective September 1, 2017.
- HB 4034 by Representative 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 secretary of state authority to eliminate duplicate voter registration records as part of the statewide registrations rolls, though indicating weak or strong matches and only acting on strong matches; allow secretary of state to withhold funds to counties not complying with deleting dead voters from the rolls. Signed by Governor Abbot, effective June 12, 2017.
Note. HB 2837 by Representative Dean also passed and contains exactly the same language on dead voters as HB 4034. We testified against HB 2837 because registrars report often not being in receipt of deaths from the various suppliers of that information. Signed by Governor Abbott, effective September 1, 2017.
Bills we supported with testimony that died.
- HB 187 by Representative Dutton and HB 260 by Representative E. Johnson, on Department of Criminal Justice providing those "off paper" with voter registration forms and information
- HB 450 by Representative Fallon, to allow mobile devices in the voting booth
- HB 1887 by Representative and SB 148 by Senator Garcia, concerning eligibility of interpreters in an election
- HB 3328 by Representative E. Rodriguez, requiring secretary of state 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 like to see fail. One we testified against, HB 2837 by Representative Dean (mentioned above) passed on its own and as part of HB 4034. The other is SB 5 by Senator Huffman that is discussed above and was signed by Governor Abbott.
Bills we opposed that did not move forward.
- HB 384 by Representative Murphy, to require photos on voter registration certificates
- HB 1149 by Representative S. Davis, to allow for only electronic posting of voting locations rather than printing in a newspaper
- HB 1683 by Representative Fallon, to significantly reduce the number of early voting days
- HB 3422 by Representative 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 multistate Electronic Registration Information Center system.
- HB 3474 by Representative Fallon, to require proof of U.S. citizenship at voter registration
Took no position: Bills that passed.
- HB 1735 by Representative Faircloth, began as a mostly partisan primary bill, but became more so 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, including a reliable email address for reaching the candidate or campaign.
Additional action in special session.
- SB 5 by Senator Hancock, dealt with ballot by mail abuse; widens the definition of mail-in ballot fraud, boosts penalties for certain offenses, and strengthens rules for signature verification. Somewhat helpful, it also requires election judges to notify voters when ballots are rejected. It also limits who may assist mail-in voters. The LWVTX recognized that there is an issue to be addressed; however, it opposed the severity of increased penalties and called for clearer mail-in ballots and carrier envelopes to prevent innocent mistakes. Signed by Governor Abbott, effective December 1, 2017.
- Representative Goldman, the House sponsor of SB 5, inserted a surprising amendment on the last day of its consideration. The amendment was meant to eliminate the new nursing home/residential facility mail-in ballot process passed in regular session in HB 658 by Representative Bernal (discussed above). The intention was to eliminate the new residential facility process before it began, but as finally passed, it was in effect for the November 2017 General Election and officially removed from law December 1, 2017. Removing the process was largely the result of county election officials across the state objecting to the new process that would have called for election judges to go to the nursing home/residential facilities to accept the mail-in ballots in person.
2019. In the 86th Legislative Session, LWVTX made dramatic strides in its advocacy on voting rights and election law issues. We contributed to the defeat of SB 9, the most suppressive voting rights/election administration bill since Voter ID was adopted. This defeat and the denial of David Whitley’s confirmation as Secretary of State, were symbolic of a major change this session in our collaborative strength. Most amazing was our establishment of an ongoing organizational infrastructure, and the availability of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s legal insights on the meaning and potential impacts of legislative proposals. The LWVTX Action Alerts (using One-Click Politics) played a gigantic role in our successes. These alerts provided a quick/easy link for all League members for contacting their personal representatives at opportune times to affect legislative action. President Grace Chimene and VP Advocacy Janet Imhoff played a big role in assuring they were appropriate and timely.
We did not achieve our major goals of establishing online voter registration in Texas or requiring improved paper trail election equipment that would permit post-election audits. However, progress was made on the latter. The most negative efforts were defeated, and no major bills passed to decrease voter access. LWVTX testified in favor of 11 bills – 3 of those passed and were signed by the Governor. We testified in opposition to 3 bills – none of them passed! In addition to our testimony, we registered support for 24 bills – 10 passed and were sent to the Governor. All 10 made it off his desk and became law. LWVTX registered opposition to 13 bills and only 2 of them passed and were signed by the Governor.
In addition to procedural bills, we supported a budget rider that allows Texas to participate in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) process to improve the accuracy of our voter rolls and increase access to voter registration for all eligible citizens. ERIC is governed and managed by states who choose to join, and was formed in 2012 with assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts. Participation requires expenditure of approximately $1.5 million to begin the membership. This session, Elections Committee Chair Stephanie Klick successfully inserted that amount in the budget and the Governor exercised no line item budget vetoes.
The demise of SB 9 in the House was a high point for League members and many other organizations and individuals. It included many of the proposals seen in previous sessions (and will likely be seen again in the 87th) to restrict voter access and establish or increase penalties for unintended errors. Other positive actions include passage of bills to greatly improve the county and Secretary of State websites by requiring more voter information (HB 933). Another new law requires improvements to county cybersecurity protection of voter registration lists and other election-related documents, systems and technology (HB 1421). Female candidates for office may now choose to run using any surname acquired by law or marriage on ballots (HB 2075), and there will be personalized auto license plates available that promote voter registration (HB 1130).
The most negative new law requires any temporary voting location in the early voting period to be open for the entire early voting period. In other words, eliminating temporary voting locations that have been so useful in urban and rural settings alike (HB 1888).