Updates from Cinde Weatherby (Austin Area) Voting Rights and Election Laws Issue Chair
|Report August 2016||Appendix August 2016|
|Report October 2016||Appendix October 2016|
ELECTION LAWS AND VOTING RIGHTS, 1999 (revised), 2010 The League of Women Voters of Texas supports every citizen's right to vote, improvement in voter registration procedures, uniformly enforced election procedures, clearly stated election laws that facilitate citizen participation, and the right to a secret ballot.
Specific measures include:
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 Texas state position and provided additional ways for Leagues to take action through vertical programming.
In 1991 the board of directors of LWVUS 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 League of Women Voters 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 Periodic Program Review, 1998-99, 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 seemed to fit more logically.
At Convention 2008, a study of "Voting Procedures to Increase Voter Participation" was adopted. A Facts and Issues, consisting of five separate papers, was distributed to members electronically. Consensus on several issues was achieved and were added to our position in 2010.
History: Voting Rights
1985-1986: A bill re-codifying the election code was passed by the 1985 Legislature; it became effective January 1, 1986. The re-codification 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. LWV-TX was represented on the advisory committee and actively supported the re-codification bill during the session. With passage of this legislation, the LWV-TX position on re-codification was achieved after many years of advocacy. Therefore, delegates to the 1987 League Convention voted to drop the position.
In addition to eliminating obsolete matter and clarifying some ambiguous provisions, the re- codification 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 two years after completion of probation, parole, or mandatory supervision.
1987-1989: During the 1987 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 ("motor voter"), a change in the purge date, and changes in the method of verification by computer. This legislation passed the Senate but died in the House.
1991: The 1991 session 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 the bill was withdrawn from House consideration by its sponsor 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 400,000 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 issued 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 (1991-1993), 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 shorter election cycle was also one of the Texas Ethics Commission's recommendations to the 73rd 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.
1994-1995: LWV-TX Voting Rights efforts during this period focused on assuring full implementation of the National Voting Rights Act (NVRA) in this state. This national "motor voter" law, which went into effect in January 1995, extends Texas' previously enacted motor voter 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 legislative session established implementation procedures that have brought Texas into full compliance with the federal statute.
A League representative served on the state's NVRA Task Force, appointed by the Secretary of History: Voting Rights
1985-1986: A bill re-codifying the election code was passed by the 1985 Legislature; it became effective January 1, 1986. The re-codification 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. LWV-TX was represented on the advisory committee and actively supported the re-codification bill during the session. With passage of this legislation, the LWV-TX position on re-codification was achieved after many years of advocacy. Therefore, delegates to the 1987 League Convention voted to drop the position. In addition to eliminating obsolete matter and clarifying some ambiguous provisions, the re- codification 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 two years after completion of probation, parole, or mandatory supervision.
1987-1989: During the 1987 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 State, charged with assisting Texas to achieve the NVRA's 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 League of Women Voters 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 not 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 in 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 which removed at least three of the ten 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 simultaneously failed to pass.
2003: The legislature passed and the Governor signed a bill that implements the Help American Vote Act (HAVA). LWVUS and LWV-TX 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 all 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 the 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. HB57 reduced the number of election dates elections from four to two. Reducing the number of election dates is a long-held LWV-TX position. The bill eliminated the February and September election, 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 election.
The issue of a re-countable voting system did not have support. (See Impact on Issues 2006- 2008, LWVUS for the position on electronic voting adopted by the 2006 LWVUS Convention.) The closest Texas came to addressing electronic voting machines (DRE's) was making tampering with DRE's a 3rd degree felony.
HB 2465 dealt with public hearings on approval of electronic voting machines. LWV-TX 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 of programming and equipment during the early voting and post election, 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 DRE's.
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 (LWV-TX 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. LWV-TX 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 LWV-TX 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 LWV-TX, was passed by the legislature, but was vetoed by the governor. HB 218 the Voter ID bill, opposed by LWV-TX, was narrowly defeated when Senator Mario Gallegos, recovering from a liver transplant, brought a hospital bed to the Capitol 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 2/3rds to 3/5ths. (The last time that the 2/3rds rule was ignored was in 2003 when the Senate forced thru 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 LWV-TX. LWV-TX 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 LWV-TX is a member. The paper asked others to join with the coalition as we move forward using these Principles to increase voter turnout. (This paper is available in the LWV-TX files and on our website) The Voter ID bill ultimately failed to pass. Toward the end of the session 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. There was a Special Session called and Voter ID was not included on that agenda.
Issues that never made it out of committee included: rules regarding electronic voting machines, same-day registration and procedures for voting. SB 310, supported by LWV-TX, 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.
The Governor vetoed one election bill supported by LWV-TX 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: LWV-Texas and the election reform coalition with which we work 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. LWV-TX 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 Sept. 2011, and 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. See note at the bottom of this section.
LWV-TX 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.
LWV-TX supported the bill to bring Texas into compliance with the federal requirements for military and overseas voters. The bill was passed and signed by Gov. 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 LWV-TX took positions failed either to make it out of committee or to pass both chambers. Bills LWV-TX supported that did not pass include those on election day voter registration, voter suspense list procedures, allowing electronic voter registration for those with a valid DPS driver's license or ID, and adding Texas to the National Popular Vote Compact. Bills which LWV-TX opposed that did not pass include 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.
Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Texas is among the states required to obtain preclearance from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) or courts before putting election law changes into effect. Texas sought preclearance of election law changes from DOJ. LWV-TX 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 LWV-TX joined has intervened against the state's position. This case is expected to go to the 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.
2013: As the League's 2012-2014 biennium began, LWV-TX was involved in litigation over preclearance of the photo ID requirement passed by the 2011 Legislature, SB 14 (Fraser), which LWV-TX opposed. LWV-TX 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 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 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 Gov. 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 passed and were 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 LWV-TX 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 LWV-TX 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 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 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 2015-2016 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 Session on the case with no final outcome.
Although, arguments included judicial questions asking why the 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 LWV-TX 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 run-off elections; allows VBM applications to be submitted any time in the preceding year prior to an election and allows VBM applications to be emailed.
LWV-TX 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 (Thompson, Senfronia), HB 913 (Israel), HB 954 (Alvarado), and SB 86 (Ellis).
The most significant bill LWV-TX 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.