Today is the last day to register to vote in Texas before the November general election. I will only be able to vote on amendments to the Texas Constitution (and a few of those are certainly important!), but many of you may be able to vote in city council, mayoral, school board, and/or bond elections as well. I attended a forum for Kyle City Council and Mayoral candidates last night, and they will make decisions that impact our day-to-day lives every bit as much as the President, Congress, and the state legislature. Every election matters!
Please make sure that you are registered to vote at your current address! You can mail in this form by the end of the day to register, you can fill out a change of address here (only if you've moved within the same county), and you can visit Vote 411 to get information from the League of Women Voters about what will be on your ballot.
Today's deadline reminds of just how difficult it is to vote in Texas. We have some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country and, not coincidentally, some of the lowest voter turnout. Here are some the challenges facing Texas voters, particularly the young, the elderly, and people of color:
We must register 30 days in advance.
Mail-in ballots are only available to those over 65 or those who will be out-of-town for the entire voting period. Folks over 65 must reapply
Online voter registration is unavailable.
Early voting days, times, and locations are limited.
ID laws have shifted so much in the past few years that many Texans are confused about the requirements, and there's the threat of a felony if you mess up. Note: Student IDs are not acceptable identification for voting.
Voting locations change election to election, and it's difficult to find up-to-date information on them.
When I was 18, I moved to Montana, and that was the first place I voted. I'm still grateful that Montana was my first experience with voting, because it was easier to believe my vote counted in a state of only one million people. But like many students, I moved frequently, and that led to difficulties voting. In 2006, Montana had a nail-bitingly tight Senate race between Jon Tester and Conrad Burns. I preferred Tester, a down-to-earth and no-nonsense Democrat over the incumbent Republican Conrad Burns who was under investigation for corruption. I lived fifteen miles from campus in the same precinct where I'd first voted in 2004, but I had lived two other places in-between. Because I was in the same precinct, I didn't think I needed to re-register. However, when I showed up to vote at the Frenchtown Fire Station right before the polls closed, The workers informed me that I was registered at an address near campus, a side effect of renewing my drivers license while I'd lived in town. This was not my polling location, and there was no way I could reach the correct one in time. I did not get to vote, and when I went to bed that night, the Montana Senate race was too close to call. Tester pulled out the win in the end, but by less than one percentage point. I have been acutely aware of how little elections can hinge on ever since.
In 2008, I was so excited to vote for Barack Obama. I had, of course, moved yet again. I'd updated my address and arrived at my polling place first thing in the morning. However, the poll workers told me I wasn't registered, and that it appeared that I had been removed from the rolls since I didn't vote in 2006. The county, like many with a high student population was trying to remove former students who no longer lived in the area. But this story has a happy ending. Montana had same day registration, and right there at the polling location, I registered to vote and then cast my ballot.
How we build our voting policy has a real impact on who gets to vote and who has a voice in this state. I envision a future where our policies are designed to encourage voting, not discourage it. Online registration is the bare minimum. I would also like to see same day registration, relaxed voter ID requirements, and opt-in mail-in ballots for everyone. I've also voted in Arizona via mail-in ballot, and I've never felt more in charge of my choices than when I was able to sit at home and research each and every candidate while I filled out my ballot.
So let's work together to build a better Texas where each and every Texan feels empowered to cast their ballot. After all, that's what democracy is all about.
Let's put the al back in y'all!