A new Texas law that imposes new restrictions on voting could greatly hinder students at the polls and limit their ability to register to vote or organize voting activities on or off campus.
Senate Bill 1 is a sweeping piece of legislation that will ban 24-hour and drive-thru voting, create new email ID warrants, and hold partisan pollwatchers accountable by allowing them “free ride” to ballot boxes. Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill into law last week after the Republican-led Legislature approved it in a second special session. It will come into force before the regional elections next year. Texas Democrats blocked previous versions of the bill fleeing the state to prevent the House of Representatives from having a quorum.
Voting experts say the bill will pose challenges for students trying to vote by prohibiting the unsolicited distribution of mail-in ballot applications and limiting how and where they can vote.
“We have to remember that Texas is already a very difficult state to vote in many ways,” said Robert Brandon, president and CEO of Fair Elections Center, a national nonpartisan suffrage organization. and electoral reform. “And so that increases barriers to registration and voting in different ways that can impact students.”
Even before the governor signed the bill, “Texas was already arguably the worst state in the country when it came to access to the vote for young people,” said Carolyn DeWitt, president of Rock the Vote, an organization in nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to building political power. young people. “It’s no surprise that Governor Abbott signed this voter suppression bill, but it’s a shame. He continues to implement undemocratic policies aimed at limiting the power of voters in the state.
Texas law already limits mail-in voting to people over age 65, who are out of county on Election Day, or who have a disability or illness that prevents them from voting in person; in the 2020 election, it was one of six states that refused to open mail-in voting to all voters due to the pandemic. The new law bans mail-in ballot drop boxes and requires mail-in voters to provide their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number. So students who in the past used their disability or out-of-county residency to obtain mail-in ballots now have additional hurdles to overcome in order to cast them.
The new law also criminalizes any election official who sends unsolicited nominations or ballots to vote by mail. Youth voter turnout nationwide was the highest on record in 2020, in part due to tactics employed by some states, including automatic voter registration at auto agencies and mailing ballots to each registered voter.
As civic groups across the country attempt to continue the wave of youth voter turnout in 2021, Brandon said it will be harder for Texas students to register and vote on campus. As of 2017, those who conduct voter registration events on or off campus must be appointed as Texas Volunteer Assistant Registrars, which means students from outside the county or state are not permitted to help d other students to enroll. The new law creates additional hurdles for campus vote organizers seeking to collect and deposit student ballots, Brandon said.
“For many students, because they’re transient, they have to re-enroll,” Brandon said. “And as long as the recording process continues to have more hurdles, it just makes it harder. Already, young people are enrolling at lower rates than others.
DeWitt shared similar worries, saying young voters are being mobilized through their communities, which can be difficult with the volunteer assistant clerk.
“New and marginalized voters are registered and mobilized across the country by nonprofit organizations and institutions such as churches, colleges, universities and civic organizations,” DeWitt said. “However, Texas law largely prohibits organizations and individuals from assisting these voters through the registration process.”
It’s bad enough that Texas law already bans college ID cards as an acceptable form of identification in polls, DeWitt said. Students from out of state or from low-income backgrounds need flexible voting options.
In addition to students, the new election law will disproportionately impact people of color, who have accounted for 95% of Texas’ population growth since 2010, and people from low-income backgrounds, opponents say. DeWitt said the law is just another way to drown out people’s voices.
“There’s no denying the demographic shifts that are happening in the state of Texas,” DeWitt said. “And it’s clear that Governor Abbott and supporters of this law are manipulating the system in an effort to silence the voices and deny the votes of a growing diverse electorate, now and in the future.”
For the Fair Elections Center, which started the Campus Vote Project, the goal is to provide the best information for students on how to access the ballot and register, Brandon said.
“When there are more barriers in place, there is an even greater need to ensure there is regular messaging to students from trusted sources like their school and teachers,” Brandon said. “The real role of the Fair Elections Center and the Campus Vote Project is to give students and young people an understanding of the power they have on the ballot.”
In the coming months, Rock the Vote will reach out to young voters in Texas to make sure they understand how this new law will impact them and what they need to do to vote, DeWitt said. One way, she said, is to engage young people through “trusted messengers,” including peers, teachers, athletes, artists and celebrities.
“The truth is that young people are very passionate about the issues, but they need to be empowered with the information and resources to participate, which is even more important and complicated with the passage of this voter suppression law,” said DeWitt.
DeWitt added that the new Texas bill would not have passed if the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was still in effect and called for passage of the federal John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The Lewis Act seeks to restore the Voting Rights Act’s oversight power, which would revive the Justice Department’s power to prohibit certain discriminatory changes to election procedures.
“It’s time to restore the VRA with the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to prevent discriminatory policies and establish national voting standards and reduce corruption in our system with the For the People Act,” DeWitt said. “We need federal legislation to protect voters in states like Texas.”