They want to do what?

Three very important, and very detrimental, bills are being heard in the House Elections Committee on Monday, April 8. Below is a copy of my guest blog on the Progress Texas blog. If you've been wondering why legislators would propose bills like this that aren't in the best interests of voters, I have an answer for you. Enjoy!

They want to do what? 

Sondra Haltom (Empower the Vote Texas) - April 5, 2013

This coming Monday, April 8th, three bills will be heard in the Texas House Elections Committee that might leave observers scratching their heads in wonder.

HB 2093 by Patricia Harless reduces the early voting period from 12 days to 6 days with an optional Sunday (voters in the county would have to petition for Sunday).  Early Voting has been around in Texas since 1987. According to a study by Austin Community College, the percentage of voters casting ballots early has steady increased with each election. More than 50% of voters cast their ballots during early voting in 2004, over 66% in 2008, and over 63% in 2012. Clearly Texans like early voting. In 2011, Florida gave this idea a try and reduced their early voting days from 14 to 8. The result was long lines, angry voters, and a lot of very bad press. The Florida Governor, who initially supported the reduction, now (unsurprisingly) favors adding those early voting days back.

HB 2372 by Stephanie Klick instructs the Secretary of State’s office to develop an interstate cross check program for voter registration, which is where a group of states enter into an agreement with one another to share data about the voters registered in their state in order to try to match them to other voter registration records to determine if a voter has moved to another state and should be removed from the former state’s voter registration list.

While this sounds like a good idea in theory, in practice it can lead to eligible voters being improperly removed from the registration list due to matching errors. Texas has some experience with matching errors. In 2012, voter registration records were compared to Social Security Administration death records. Thousands of letters notifying people that they were presumed dead were sent to voters based on criteria that SOS labeled a “weak” match. This resulted in many “zombie voters” who were in fact alive and well having to contact the local elections office to provide proof of life within 30 days or they would be purged. A group of these living voters sued and the purge was stopped. After Kentucky established the program, 10% of voters who were purged from the registration list showed up to vote at the next election.

The bill does not specify which states Texas would coordinate with, what criteria from each state would be used, what security protocols would be put in place to protect the identities of Texas voters, or any other important details about how the program would be implemented, including ensuring compliance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.

HB 2848 by James White allows election officials to order video recording of the area outside early voting poll locations, including voters entering and exiting the poll location. It also allows for the video recording to be made available for live public viewing over the internet.

First of all, it’s very likely illegal. 42 USC § 1971 specifies “No person, whether acting under color of law or otherwise, shall intimidate, threaten, coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote…” The Department of Justice has stated in previous instances that videotaping voters without their permission falls under this statute.

Second, video placed online could be used by non-governmental entities in a way that suppresses the vote. Individuals and groups could publicly proclaim their intent to monitor the live video feed for various purposes. Such a proclamation could serve to have a chilling effect on voters who don’t want to be spied on. Unlike other public places, voters who want to vote don’t have the option of not going to the polling place, especially if they do not qualify to receive a mail ballot.

By now you’re probably thinking “Why in the world would members of the Texas Legislature want to do these things if they’re not helpful to voters?” Here’s your answer: True The Vote.

You may remember True The Vote from such illustrious activities in Texas in 2010 as:

King Street "Patriots": Voter Intimidation Continues At Polling Stations Around Houston

Some Harris County early voters upset by poll watchers

The Battle of Harris County

Judge rules tea party group a PAC, not a nonprofit

They were so “successful” that in 2012 they took their show on the road, helping out in such places as:

Infamous TX Voter Intimidation Group Inserts Itself Into Walker Recall Election

GOP Front Group Suing States To Force Voter Purges

Husted will probe any voter intimidation

For 2013, True The Vote has a new group, True The Vote Now, which serves as their lobbying arm. At the beginning of the Texas Legislative session, they helpfully provided their 2013 Legislative Agenda to all members of the legislature. Notice anything on their agenda that rings a bell? That’s right! All of the bills above and several others that have been filed come straight from the True The Vote Legislative Agenda. So now you know who really wants to cut early voting, kick more people off the voter registration list, and spy on you when you go vote. You’re welcome.

House Elections meets in the Texas Capitol, Room E2.028, Monday, April 8th, starting at 10am. Hope to see you there!

 

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