Editorial: Texas needs to leave strict voting laws in the past

With+the+start+of+early+voting+on+Feb+12+for+the+March+3+Primaries%2C+citizens+across+Texas+are+heading+to+the+polls+to+vote.+Wingspan+shares+its%27+stance+about+voter+registration%2C+and+other+Texas+laws+regarding+election+processes.+

Jul

With the start of early voting on Feb 12 for the March 3 Primaries, citizens across Texas are heading to the polls to vote. Wingspan shares its' stance about voter registration, and other Texas laws regarding election processes.

Wingspan Staff

Marching to the polls with a valid form of photo ID in hand, Texans began casting their ballots Tuesday morning on the first day of early voting for the March 3 primaries. However, thousands of eligible voters will not have a chance to have a say in the elections because of strict voting laws leaving them out. Plagued with dismal voter turnout rates, the state must modernize its voter registration procedures and make it easier for Texans to vote, in an effort to encourage broader political participation.

In order to vote in the primaries, eligible voters must have registered by Feb. 3, an entire month before election day. Unlike the 21 states offering same day registration, this unnecessarily early deadline leaves out new voters who learn about the election after it’s already too late. In addition to these deadlines, Texas also requires residents to mail in their voter registration, creating a slow process that forces people to wait several days or weeks to verify their status. With 38 states allowing citizens to register online, there is no reason for Texas to continue this complicated procedure that can discourage potential new voters from signing up.

Among other needless stipulations, Texas also requires that voters have at least one of the permitted government issued photo-IDs. This requirement might make it difficult for many Texans to cast their ballots, especially lower income residents and minorities that might not have a driver’s license or passport. Recent voter purges by the state have even drawn calls that the government is targeting people of color. While the official behind a recent botched purge has resigned, it is time that the government focus energy on making it easier for Texans to vote rather than draft intimidating legislation.

Making reform to voting laws more urgent is the reality of the state’s generally awful voter turnout. In the 2016 general elections, 46.3 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, having the 44th worst turnout in the country, despite improving by five percent since 2012. Also in 2016, only 27.3 percent of eligible 18 to 24-year-olds voted, meaning the results are skewed by proportions of groups in the electorate. By nature, democracies serve to reflect the will of the people, and by making voting more difficult we stride farther from achieving this objective.

Although Texans can no longer register for the primaries, the state has the chance to expand the proportion of registered voters before the general election and those in forthcoming years. With especially poor turnout of young voters and a third of the Hispanic population below voting age, fast action is important to ensure the upcoming generation of voters can make their voices heard. By allowing online registration, loosening ID restrictions, and adopting same day registration, Texas can improve turnout and have a voting population that more accurately reflects the demographics of the state.