Fifteen Texas voting rights groups sent a letter to new Texas Sec. of State Jane Nelson outlining steps her office could take to improve voter turnout.
AUSTIN — Common Cause Texas joined 14 voting rights coalition partners in sending a letter this week to the new head of elections in Texas, suggesting steps that could address the barriers too many Texas voters are facing.
Former state Sen. Jane Nelson became the state’s 115th Secretary of State and chief election officer for the state of Texas on Wednesday, after receiving confirmation from the state legislature.
“The most urgent decision you face as newly confirmed Texas Secretary of State is affirming that Texas will remain in the Electronic Registration Information Center, commonly known as ERIC. It is important for the office of Secretary of State to mitigate, not validate, misinformation about the non-partisan member organization created and managed by state election officials and which has been a critical tool in registering more eligible Americans to vote,” the letter signed by 15 groups, including Common Cause Texas, states.
A copy of the letter is available here.
Nelson steps into her new role facing a difficult reality – Texas elections and voter turnout are among the worst in the country, ranking 41st in the nation for voter turnout, and 46th for hardest states to vote in. As of the 2022 general election, 9.6 million registered Texans did not cast their ballot. This happens as a result of the state legislature passing laws focused on suppressing the vote white deliberately underfunding our state’s critical elections systems.
Furthermore, Nelson’s predecessors failed to put voters’ needs first, and mismanagement in the office led to an abysmal statewide mail ballot rejection rate 12 times higher in the 2022 primaries than the 2020 presidential election, with voters of color having their ballots rejected at disproportionately high rates. The rejection rate in the November 2022 election remained unforgivably high – more than three times higher than in 2020.
“Texans deserve to be able to vote without barriers, so that we can be a state where all of our voices are heard,” said Katya Ehresman, voting rights program manager for Common Cause Texas. “Sec. Nelson faces a unique opportunity to improve access and turnout for every Texan, regardless of party, and fulfill the foundational goals of her office. There are unused tools in the Secretary’s toolbox that could be helping Texans vote without barriers, and we hope she will act to ensure every young and eligible voter in Texas can be encouraged to vote.”
Below are additional policy recommendations that the Texas Secretary of State’s Office could make today, if desired:
- Track and disclose monthly the number of poll watchers who take required training, as well as the pass and fail rates, with results provided on the statewide and county levels. We suggest also updating training to prevent spread of disinformation by poll watchers.
Modernize Voter Registration
- Release a county-level breakdown of the number of voters who have registered to vote at the Texas Department of Public Safety on a monthly basis, as well as the method of registration (in-person or online transaction, e.g.).
- Send each high school enough printed voter registration forms sufficient to register every eligible student at that school.
Vote by Mail
- Implement evidence-based design best practices for vote-by-mail applications, mail ballots, and carrier envelopes to reduce voter confusion. Design changes may include increasing font-sizes, left-aligning text, and reducing language complexity.
- Track and publish online for each election the number of VBM ballots that have been rejected and the reason for rejection, with numbers reported both on a statewide and county level basis
Curbside Voting and Accessibility
- Improve and expand on training for election judges and poll workers to increase compliance with the administration of curbside voting, including requirements for standardized, effective, and visible signage at every early voting and Election Day polling location.
- Ensure that Texas’ 254 counties have an ADA Coordinator on staff to ensure regular compliance with the ADA Checklist for Polling Places and implement polling place remediation ahead of the election period.