It’s past time for online voter registration in Texas: State Sen. Carol Alvarado

·4 min read
A Hope Border Institute volunteer walks from car to car to register voters at St. Mark Catholic Church in El Paso on Sept. 9, 2020.
A Hope Border Institute volunteer walks from car to car to register voters at St. Mark Catholic Church in El Paso on Sept. 9, 2020.

The state’s chief election officer, the Texas secretary of state, recently announced that supply chain issues have forced the state to reduce the number of voter registration card applications available for the public.

Voter registration organizations that have requested applications are only receiving a fraction of the number they requested. This is inexcusable, indefensible and downright embarrassing.

New 18-year-old adults, citizens who have moved to Texas from other states, naturalized citizens and previously unregistered Texans might not be able to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming election March 1 because of a supply shortage of voter registration cards. We are not talking about not being able to buy toilet paper — it is our sacred right to cast a vote. This is sad, tragic, laughable and happening in real time.

It didn’t have to be this way.

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I have filed legislation to allow universal online voter registration every session since 2013 and I will file a bill next session. If my bill gets a hearing, I will not need to call up a panel of experts to testify why we need the bill; I will just point to the events of this past week to make a compelling case.

Online voter registration is safer, more secure and cheaper than its paper equivalent. It was first implemented close to 20 years ago in Arizona. Now, 42 states and the District of Columbia allow online voter registration. This includes red, blue, purple, small and large states. Notably there have been no major scandals involving fraud or other issues that have caused states to scale back use of online voter registration.

In August of 2020, a federal court ruled that Texas was in violation of the National Voter Registration Act because the state was not giving residents the option to register to vote when they renewed their driver’s license. Texas was forced to comply and since then, 1.5 million Texans have used the online system to register to vote or change their voter registration address. We have not heard any reports from the Texas secretary of state that this system is being abused with fraudulent registrants.

This latest episode of voting in Texas confirms the obvious. Texas is not a voter friendly state.

Last summer, I stood for 15 hours straight on the floor of the Texas Senate to bring national attention to legislation that makes it difficult for Texans to access the ballot box. During my filibuster, Texans from across the state sent me their concerns about this bill, including how difficult it would be for older Texans, veterans and those with disabilities to cast their vote. Nevertheless, Texas adopted the most restrictive voting measure of any state in the nation and we are already paying the price.

One of the provisions I spoke out against was a new requirement for voters to include their state-issued ID card number or the last four digits of their Social Security number on mail ballot applications. The number needs to be the exact same one a voter used when they first registered to vote — even if it was decades ago. If the number doesn’t match, then the application must be rejected. So, if you used your driver’s license number when you registered to vote but then you used your Social Security number for the mail ballot application, you’re out of luck.

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I warned that mail ballot applications would be rejected because of this unnecessary requirement. I was correct. We are now getting reports that election officials across the state have been forced to reject up to half of the mail ballot applications because of confusion over what must be included on the application. What’s worse is the state has not provided a way for voters to correct their applications. We’re running out of time; mail ballots are already being sent out. It looks like the so-called election integrity legislation will disenfranchise many Democratic and Republican party primary voters.

It is no secret that those in control of state government want to make it hard for certain folks to vote. That was on full display last year during the regular legislative session and subsequent special sessions. There is, however, a difference in making it harder to vote and not letting you vote.

The jig is up. Enough. Let’s join the rest of the country in the 21st century and get online with voter registration.

Democratic state Sen. Carol Alvarado represents District 6 in the Texas Senate.

This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: Texas needs online voter registration now: State Sen. Carol Alvarado

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