11 Sep RELEASE: Coalition calls on Texas officials to enforce High School Voter Registration Law

For Immediate Release
Monday, September 11, 2017

Contact: Melissa Martinez
Phone: 210.867.3506
Email: melissa@texascivilrightsproject.org

RELEASE: Coalition calls on Texas officials to enforce High School Voter Registration Law
Groups present 5 point plan to ensure high school students can participate in our democracy

Full letter: Including citations and signers

Austin, TX —  Today, a coalition of 8 Texas-based and national groups published a letter sent to the Texas Secretary of State calling on officials to enforce the state’s High School Voter Registration Law.

Under the Texas election code, high school principals are required to provide at least two opportunities for eligible students to register to vote every year. However, data from the 2016 election shows that too few high schools are providing their students with the opportunity to participate in the democratic process. In 2016, just 198 of 1,428 public high schools in Texas, or 14%, and zero private high school requested voter registration forms in the semester before the voter registration deadline.

Last month, Secretary of State Rolando B. Pablos published an editorial calling on high school principals to comply with the law. However, these efforts ring hollow unless state officials take substantive steps to empower Texas high schools:

  • Distribute voter registration applications to all Texas high schools every year without requiring high schools to submit a written request for these applications
  • Ensure that all Texas high schools offer their senior students who are eligible to vote an opportunity to register to vote by instituting a tracking process that would gauge the success of each high school’s implementation of the law
  • Enhance procedures that notify all Texas high schools of the need to comply with the law
  • Create trainings for all Texas high schools in order to ensure all legal duties and administrative rules are clear
  • Enforce state law to ensure that all Texas high schools are in full compliance and register their students to vote.

The letter, sent on September 5, 2017, gave the Secretary of State’s office until Friday, September 8 to reply. However, the Secretary of State has repeatedly refused to respond to any communication sent on behalf of community stakeholders.

The letter is signed by Common Cause Texas, Mi Familia Vota, MOVE San Antonio, the Children’s Defense Fund, the League of Women Voters of Texas, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, the ACLU of Texas, and Voto Latino in partnership with the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Beth Stevens, Voting Rights Director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said:

“The right to vote is fundamental. Registering to vote should be an easy, straightforward, and open process for everyone, but especially for young people who are beginning their first experience with voting. However, all evidence points to a serious lack of compliance with our state’s unique high school voter registration law. We need to take action to ensure we create a culture of democratic participation for the upcoming generation of Texans.”

Anthony Gutierrez, Executive Director of Common Cause Texas, said:

“One of the many reasons Texas lags behind the rest of the country when it comes to civic engagement and participation in elections is that there are very few laws on the books that actually encourage participation. Sadly, in this case, we have a great law already in place and the state is simply choosing not to enforce it.”

Elaine Wiant, President of the League of Women Voters of Texas, said:

“High school is the best time to begin the culture of voting. It’s time for Texas to take seriously the requirement to offer voter registration in our high schools.”

Drew Galloway, Executive Director of MOVE San Antonio, said:

“Voting is a habit: Through education and guidance, new voters become consistent voters. Every day, MOVE San Antonio educates young people on why their voice matters and simplifies the complex, systemic barriers to the ballot box. We applaud today’s recommendations and implore Secretary Pablos to act, empowering the next generation of Texans to begin participating earlier in their civic life.”

Jessica Reeves, Chief Operating Officer of Voto Latino, said:

“As one of only 9 states to require civic education, Texas youth should be encouraged and able to easily participate in our democracy. Unfortunately, Texas continues to see low turnout with just 42 percent of the voting population turning out in 2016 in Texas, and Latino youth voting at below national averages. Voto Latino has seen that when youth and Latino youth in particular are registered, they participate. It is high time that state takes responsibility for creating voting habits for its youth and hope that school administrators will work with Secretary Pablo and groups from this coalition to educate our youth.”

Full letter: Including citations and signers