Texas GOP uses sneaky tactics to try to get around federal voting law

393

Republican state lawmakers are debating a bill that would allow Texas to avoid following a provision in H.R. 1 requiring them to enact automatic voter registration for all citizens.

Republicans in the Texas state House debated a new bill on Wednesday that would create a two-tier voter registration system in the state, allowing them to sidestep H.R. 1, congressional Democrats' bill requiring states to make it easier for people to vote.

The Texas legislation seeks to circumvent a possible new rule in H.R. 1 — titled the For the People Act — that would require states set up automatic voter registration for federal elections. Automatic registration is already being used in 19 states and the District of Columbia, meaning that when eligible voters interact with a government agency such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, they are automatically registered to vote. If they do not want to be registered, voters can later opt out.

Texas — which has some of the strictest voting laws in the country — doesn't want to use automatic registration.

Analyses have found that automatic registration moderately boosts turnout — especially among young and lower-income earners, who are more likely to vote for Democrats. For example, 2020 exit polling showed President Joe Biden carried voters earning under $50,000 a year by an 11-point margin over Donald Trump. And Biden carried voters between the ages of 18 to 29 by an even larger 24-point spread.

Congress has yet to pass the For the People Act, which includes the registration requirement, through both chambers.

But Republicans in Texas are preemptively trying to circumvent it with H.B. 4507, a bill that would establish two separate registration processes in the state — one for federal elections and one for state elections, according to Democracy Docket, a voting rights group run by Democratic lawyer Marc Elias.

"[For] state elections ... Texas Republicans claim could ignore these federal requirements," the group wrote on Thursday. "Any voter registering to vote in a federal election would not be automatically registered for local and state elections, unless they meet the much stricter and more exclusionary requirements of Texas’s Election Code. Instead, they would have to apply and register again separately for their local elections."

According to the text of H.B. 4507, "Any person seeking to register to vote under the federal election voter registration system provided for under this subsection shall be notified upon registering to vote under this system that registration to vote in federal elections does not qualify a person to vote in any other election conducted in this state unless that person registers to vote as provided by Title 2 of this Code."

The Brennan Center for Justice, which has been tracking the GOP's voter suppression effort in state legislatures across the country, said the Texas bill could be not only confusing to voters but extraordinarily difficult to actually carry out logistically.

The group noted that Republicans in Arizona have introduced a near identical bill to avoid compliance with the For the People Act's registration requirement as well.

Meanwhile, Republicans in six states have introduced nonbinding resolutions to voice opposition to the For the People Act in general.

Aside from requiring automatic registration, the For the People Act would also require states to allow anyone who wants to vote absentee in federal contests to do so, limits the use of voter ID, creates a standard states must adhere to for voter roll purges, and reenfranchises those who complete felony sentences, allowing them to cast a ballot once more.

The legislation passed the House in March without a single GOP vote.

Senate Democrats plan to debate their own version of the For the People Act in May, a big step before bringing it up for a vote before the full Senate.

Senate Republicans, however, have vowed to filibuster the legislation, pushing lies about what the legislation would do, including claiming it would somehow kill the First Amendment and leave the United States open to more foreign election interference. Neither claim is true.

Voting rights activists meanwhile are urging Democrats to nix the filibuster in order to pass the For the People Act — an idea that is gaining momentum in the Senate, with some moderate Democrats like West Virginia's Joe Manchin suggesting they are not entirely opposed to the idea.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.