Commentary: Austin, TX – For 30 years, Texas law has maintained that all state high schools must hand out voter registration applications to eligible students at least twice per year. But according to a new report by the Texas Civil Rights Projects and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, only six percent of high schools in Texas are asking for voter registration forms from the state.
This, along with discriminatory laws championed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, is another effort to disenfranchise voters of color in Texas. In the last month alone, federal courts have ruled that Texas purposely pushed voter-ID laws and redrew congressional maps to discriminate against communities of color. Beth Stevens, Voting Rights Director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said: Texas has a long-standing law which requires high schools to offer eligible students the opportunity to register to vote at least twice a school year. The law requires the Texas Secretary of State to ensure implementation of the law occurs and Secretary Pablos is failing at this part of his job. This unique law should make Texas a leader in youth voter registration and turnout. But that’s not the reality in Texas. Instead, Texas ranks third worst in the country. More than two thirds of Texans under 18 are people of color. As our state gets more diverse, black and Latino Texans may very well face increased barriers to civic participation. Below is an excerpt from Ashley Lopez of KUT’s story that breaks down what this report means for the future of voter registration in Texas high schools. It can be found in its entirety here. It’s basically up to high schools to make the law work. But only 6 percent of schools in Texas are asking the state for registration forms, says Beth Stevens, voting rights director with the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP). Advocates say state officials need to do more.… Stevens said the only reason TCRP knows so few schools are asking for voter registration applications is because for the past four years it has been asking school administrators themselves. The group found that only 198 out of 1,428 public schools requested forms in 2016. None of about 1,800 private schools requested them. Advocates say the state is missing an opportunity to turn young Texans into active voters. “The one thing we do know already is that when voter registration is coupled with messages about the personal importance of voting and the how, when and where information is given, that students are more likely to vote,” said Cinde Weatherby, board president of the League of Women Voters of Austin. From a national perspective, this is something the state should take seriously, said Brendan Downes with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Texas ranks near the bottom in youth voter registration and turnout. This is a great remedy for that problem,” he said. That is something advocates say is frustrating – mostly because Texas has a detailed law that gives high schools a lot of information on how to run these drives. Stevens says that's unique. “And one that would be very powerful if we could get the secretary to enforce compliance,” she said. Advocates say they are “encouraged” because Pablos has said this is an issue that is important to him. In an op-ed last month in the Star-Telegramhe wrote, “Texas students deserve better, and I want to work with principals to improve upon the past.”