Models of Judicial Decisionmaking – Posner’s Change of Heart on Voter I.D.

The NY Times Magazine ran a well-written essay by Elizabeth Bazelon about how and when judges change their minds – with prominent mention given of Judge Richard Posner’s public mea culpa regarding his previous approval of a voter I.D. law. The essay isn’t primarily concerned with election law, but with the broader question of how and when judges have intellectual “cover” to change their opinions about something.

With Friends Like These – Criticism of Clinton’s Campaign Push For Voting Rights Reform

On June 8, Rick Hasen posted a column on Slate in which he argued that Hillary Clinton’s spotlight on GOP efforts to restrict voting rights was detrimental to the larger goal of actual voting rights reform. Not surprisingly, this column drew an immediate and angry response from many commenters who took issue with Professor Hasen’s concern that a Presidential campaign is too vitriolic to encourage actual bipartisan improvements in voting rights.

In making his argument, Professor Hasen acknowledged that (1) Secretary Clinton’s criticism of GOP-led changes in voting laws are factually correct; and (2) that Secretary Clinton’s proposed reforms (universal Federal voting registration, online registration, etc) are sound and rational. In other words, Professor Hasen generally agrees with Secretary Clinton that state legislatures dominated by the GOP have eroded voting rights since 2011 (with such measures as restrictive picture I.D. requirements, limitations on registration, reductions in early voting, etc.), and that for the health of our nation’s democracy, these restrictions must be overturned.

It isn’t the message that Professor Hasen finds objectionable, but the forum in which that message is being aired – a Presidential campaign. In his view, “voting rights” as a Democratic Party candidate’s campaign talking point puts Republicans on the defensive. As the GOP circles the wagons, the intensity of the rhetoric diminishes the likelihood that a Republican lawmaker can save face while working to overturn disastrous laws like those enacted in Texas and North Carolina.

As a counter-example of bipartisan cooperation on improving the voting experience, Professor Hasen points to the overwhelming success of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA), which substantially advanced the cause of online voter registration, improved voter convenience for early and absentee voting, and so on. The implication is that partisan rhetoric dampens enthusiasm for actual voting rights reforms. Why rock the boat? Why make enemies when the goal should be to improve access to the polls? Professor Hasen also argues that even a successful Presidential campaign is a poor mechanism for policy change, because the Executive Branch has very little in the way of effective tools for implementing changes in state election procedures.

Does Hillary Clinton’s campaign rhetoric really paint bipartisan cooperation on voting rights into a corner? I’m not so sure. Her harshest criticisms are aimed at two of her competitors (Rick Perry and Scott Walker) for their past actions; these potential GOP nominees couldn’t participate meaningfully in bipartisan improvements in voting rights even if they wanted to, and attacks against them for their hostility towards minority voters don’t particularly imperil any actual reform, and simply strengthen the polarizing stance of the two dominant parties. (the unofficial slogan of the GOP is “Protecting You From Undesirables.” The unofficial slogan of the Democratic Party is “Protecting You From People Who Think You are Undesirable.”)

Here’s the fatal flaw in Professor Hasen’s argument: he simultaneously discounts the political value of campaign rhetoric while paradoxically worrying about the political effect of campaign rhetoric.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign rhetoric regarding voting rights is either effective to influence government policy regarding voting rights reform (positively or negatively) or it is not. Statements by candidates for President regarding voting rights reform cannot simultaneously be regarded as both meaningless (due to the limited leverage allegedly afforded to federal executive control over state voting rights) and negatively powerful and promoting of intransigence among Republicans with respect to actual reform. The only acts that promote intransigence with respect to voting rights reform are those acts that actually have some chance of succeeding in making changes to voting rights.

Therefore, the only course available to Secretary Clinton is to continue treating voting rights reform as a campaign plank, because (1) either the usefulness and forcefulness of that plank comes from the credible threat that the campaign position will lead to an improvement in voting rights, or (2) the usefulness and forcefulness of that plank encourages clear “brand differentiation” among the candidates without endangering any potential for actual reform.

Could the U.S. Supreme Court Scuttle Representative Democracy?

Well, sure, if the justices wanted to, they could get rid of population-based apportionment of state legislative districts. It would be a dumb thing to do, but this is a court inured to the practice of doing dumb things.

The case in question is Evenwel v. Abbott – the plaintiff argues that Texas should not base state redistricting on the distribution of its population, but rather on the distribution of its voters. The motivation for the case is to strip power from urban areas in favor of the rural conservatives.

Central to the conservative argument is that apportionment of representation by population size “dilutes” the power afforded to voters by distributing representation based on both the voting population and all the other people (kids, foreigners, prisoners, non-voters) who happen to live in a state House or Senate district.

In other words, the plaintiff believes that government representatives do not serve all the people in their district. The plaintiff believes that government representatives serve only the people who vote, and everyone else can suck eggs.

Not surprisingly, every court that has heard the plaintiff’s argument has rejected it out of hand. Surprisingly, the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t just reject the argument out of hand, which has everyone worried. Needless to say, a decision favorable to the plaintiff would be devastating to the efforts of underrepresented minority populations to redress the inequalities they face.

Voting Rights in an Oligarchy

In the most recent issue of The Nation, Ari Berman posits that political fundraising in the weaponized post-Citizen’s United, post McCutcheon era has had the effect of making wealth and the pursuit of wealthy donors a more critical limitation on candidate choices, and suggests that super PAC dominance of the primary elections may violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Check out his article, “How the Money Primary Is Undermining Voting Rights.”

Passing the Buck on the Motor Voter Law, Texas Style

This week, the law firm of Waters and Kraus LLP sent a demand letter to the Texas Secretary of State, informing him of his failure to meet the legal requirements of the National Voter Registration Act, and of his legal liabilities under that federal law.

The law in question is Section 20504(a) of Title 52, Chapter 205, United States Code (text taken from uscode.house.gov):

(1) Each State motor vehicle driver’s license application (including any renewal application) submitted to the appropriate State motor vehicle authority under State law shall serve as an application for voter registration with respect to elections for Federal office unless the applicant fails to sign the voter registration application.

(2) An application for voter registration submitted under paragraph (1) shall be considered as updating any previous voter registration by the applicant.

52 U.S.C. Sec. 20504(a) (2015).

Easy enough to understand, right? If you get a driver’s license, or renew a driver’s license, you get registered to vote, or you get your registration updated, assuming that you are legally eligible to vote.

Unfortunately, Texas has done an abysmally poor job of implementing that simple mandate, and the Texas Secretary of State has seemingly abdicated all responsibility for correcting fundamental programmatic errors and mistakes in the way that the law is implemented. More damning, public records show that the Secretary of State has been aware for years that the state’s implementation of the federal law is badly flawed, but has failed to correct the flaws.

1. WHAT EXACTLY IS TEXAS DOING WRONG?

In Texas, drivers’ license registration and renewal is handled by the Department of Public Safety. As in other states, people who want to legally drive a car, (or to continue legally driving a car), go to a government office, fill out paperwork, pay a fee, maybe have to pass a driver’s test or a simple eye exam, and get a license.

Of those people who get licensed to drive a car, a large number will be legally eligible to register to vote, or they will already be registered to vote. Whether those legally eligible voters actually get registered is dependent on a number of factors.

  • Failure To Provide Forms

Sometimes, the mistake is a simple failure on the part of a customer service representative to actually provide the voter registration form – the person getting a driver’s license or renewal will be asked, “Would you like to register to vote?”, the customer will say “Yes,” but no data regarding the transaction will be entered. The customer leaves the office thinking, “I must be registered to vote now.”, but the whole transaction sinks without a trace into the black waters of the River Lethe.

Maybe the clerk didn’t hear “yes.” Maybe the clerk heard “yes” but thought it was “no.” Who knows? Certainly, the clerk’s processing of the license application or renewal is made incrementally less complicated if an additional form doesn’t have to change hands, and the line at the counter moves a little faster.

  • Failure to Process the Information Correctly

Sometimes the customer service representative makes a more subtle error by going through all the overt steps of entering the customer’s data, but incorrectly. At least a record of the transaction exists, notwithstanding the mistake, and maybe the voter’s registration status can be saved through subsequent investigation. But for every hoop that the voter jumps through later (voting provisionally, having the provisional ballot reviewed by the county voter registrar, having the voter registrar seek transaction records from DPS, getting a final disposition letter from the early voting ballot board), the chance of another compounding error may derail the voter’s exercise of the electoral franchise.

  • Willful Noncompliance

One might say, “Well, Texas is a big, lazy, badly managed State. What of it? Anyone who walks into a government office to get a driver’s license is aware that the clerks are sullen, poorly paid, badly trained, and resentful. We should be grateful that anyone at all ever manages to get registered to vote at DPS. In fact, we should be grateful that anyone at all ever manages to successfully get a driver’s license at DPS. Against ignorance and the insolence of office, the gods themselves struggle in vain.”

Such fatalism in the face of entropy and error is misplaced in this circumstance for two reasons. First, while any system of voter registration is likely to have some error rate, data trends suggest that the State of Texas experiences significantly greater errors in motor voter registrations than the national average (as per the demand letter’s citation of the 2012 EAC report on state registration trends).

Second, and more seriously, the State’s online driver’s license renewal system directly violates federal law, because it perversely cancels voter registrations for people who move from one county to another, without also automatically registering those voters in the new county.

2. The Unexpected Gotcha of Online Driver’s License Renewal and Address Corrections

Wait. What?

For as long as Texas has had a system of voter registration, it has been the case that when a person moves from one county to another, that person must re-register to vote in the new county. The act of changing one’s permanent residence from one county to another automatically cancels one’s voter registration in the former county of residence.

The specific mechanism of this cancellation is a bit convoluted. Section 15.021 of the Texas Election Code¬†provides that a voter may correct or update his or her voter registration information. Meanwhile, Section 16.031 of the Election Code provides that if a voter’s correction or update indicates that the voter lives outside the county of registration, that the voter’s registration is immediately cancelled.

Okay. Granted, a voter may not know that a move across county lines automatically cancels one’s registration in the old county, but ignorance of the law is no excuse, and all that.

Now, take a look at subsections (d) and (e) of Section 15.021 of the Election Code. The subsections provide that a voter “who continues to reside in the county in which the voter is registered” may submit an address change electronically through the Department of Public Safety, in order to update the voter registration address, and that the Secretary of State will “approve technologies” and “prescribe additional procedures” for implementing the digital transmission of changes in voter registration.

Okay. What’s weird about that statute is the specification that the system is solely available to a voter “who continues to reside” in the county where that voter is registered to vote. What about the other voters? What happens to voters who don’t continue to reside in the county where they are registered to vote? Do they just suck eggs?

No. They get warned away from trying to use the online DPS license update in order to update their voter registration. Note – they aren’t prohibited from using the update system – they’re just given a warning. They still get a friendly little box to check, “Yes – I’d like to update my voter registration.”

But the National Voter Registration Act is clear – any existing voter who updates their driver’s license information should automatically be registered to vote in the jurisdiction that they now reside in. (52 U.S.C. Section 20504(a)(2)). Even if a voter has moved across county lines, and is therefore cancelled as a voter in the old county, that cancellation should be offset by the voter being registered automatically in the new county.

52 U.S.C. Section 20504(d) states that “Any change of address form submitted in accordance with State law for purposes of a State motor vehicle driver’s license shall serve as notification of change of address for voter registration with respect to elections for Federal office for the registrant involved unless the registrant states on the form that the change of address is not for voter registration purposes.”

No distinction exists regarding the legal effect of electronic or online address updates versus ones that are done at a DPS office; so the State is breaking the law by using voter’s online address updates to cancel voter registrations without balancing those cancellations with new voter registrations in the new counties.

It doesn’t matter that the State law has been interpreted for years to require a draconian “tough love” approach towards voter-initiated address updates – favoring cancellation without any compensatory registration in the new county. Such an interpretation cannot be reconciled with the express requirements of the federal law, which do not brook the creation of secret traps for cancelling registrations of voters who move from one jurisdiction to another.

Frankly, this lawsuit is long, long overdue.

Honestly, even outside the context of the “motor voter” law, the State’s “gotcha” interpretation of the combined effects of cancellation of voter registration (under Section 16.031 of the Election Code) and the treatment of innocent voter address updates (under Section 15.021) is probably a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. But that’s a fight for another time.

A Rare Judicial Ruling on Residence Issues in Weslaco Election Contest

Houston attorney Jerad Najvar has passed along a press release and a .pdf of his opening brief in Lopez v. Rivera, the election contest resulting from the hotly-contested November 2013 municipal election in the City of Weslaco. Central to the contestant Letty Lopez’s initial complaint was the assertion that a number of illegal votes had to be thrown out.

20141229 Lopez opening brf and appx FILED

That election has been in the news lately because the Secretary of State forwarded a criminal complaint to the Attorney General’s office with evidence of illegal voting in that election. Signatures on ballot applications and ballot envelopes were allegedly forged, and ballots were cast by voters who assert that they did not actually vote in the election.

Importantly, this lawsuit and criminal complaint highlight the profound difference between election fraud as it is actually practiced in Texas, and the purely hypothetical election fraud addressed by the state’s questionable voter I.D. law.

As actually practiced, election fraud (1) does not involve in-person voting, but rather voting by mail, and (2) is a coordinated subornation of an election conducted either by a candidate or by election consultants working on a candidate’s behalf.

In fact, the requirement to show picture I.D. in the polling place would not have in any way prevented the illegal voting that occurred in the 2013 municipal election in Weslaco.

Legislative Accomplishments of the Regular Session

As I was cleaning dog poop out of our recycling bin today, it reminded me that it is high time to review the election-related accomplishments of the Texas Legislature this session. In 2014 the voters decided to experiment by electing a singularly undistinguished cadre of politicians with zero legislative experience. Let’s see how they did.

84th Texas Legislature – Tale of the Tape

Bills Waiting For the Governor’s Pen

  • S.B. 1072 gives a political party the capacity to remove a precinct or county chair who has failed to perform the duties of office. This one is waiting for the Governor’s signature. It’s always been a bone of contention for the state parties that they have no access to any sort of government-enforced mechanism to remove the more useless or troublesome members of their little private clubs. This law will give the parties a chance to cite state law while policing up the conduct of their primaries.

Enrolled Bills

  • As of right now, I’m only aware of one bill other than S.B. 1072 affecting election matters has passed both the House and Senate – that’s S.B. 1703, a clean-up bill that gamely attempts to fix all the screwed-up deadlines enumerated in the Election Code that were thrown out of whack by previous fiddling, mostly by extending lots of statutory deadlines by roughly another week. To give election workers more time to mail out military ballots, deadlines for candidate applications have generally been pushed back another week, some tweaking has been done to specify the distinction between “national” and “state” holidays, and holidays and weekends now toll the deadlines for the Early Voting Ballot Board (meaning that election workers no longer have to meet on the weekend in order to satisfy the deadline requirements for resolving provisional ballots).

In other words, it’s a housekeeping bill.

Engrossed Bills

These are a mixed bag of clean-up bills, wonky election nuts-and-bolts bills, and the occasional bills that are just plain nuts. I’ll rank them roughly in order of evilness and likelihood of passage. Please note that the informal bill titles provided are my own, and are not the titles provided by the bill authors or the Texas Legislative Council.

1. Evil Bills That Have Committee Action Scheduled

  • H.B. 1096 (i.e., the Defense of Democracy from Icky Homeless and Disabled People Bill) is an eminently unreasonable bill (and therefore has a public hearing scheduled in Senate State Affairs on May 18th) that further beats up voters by forcing them to prove that their residence address is documented on their drivers’ license, when challenged by other voters. This is the sort of anti-voting rights bill that certain … unsavory … elements of the Legislature seem to love. It exempts the voters that the Right approves of and doesn’t want to lump in with the unsavory transients (i.e., military voters, judges, and law enforcement), but otherwise requires people to really, really super prove that they really, really, live somewhere. This is the sort of thing that would never have passed muster back when we had an enforceable preclearance requirement under the Voting Rights Act.
  • S.B. 1115 (the Further Pandering To Military Voters Empowerment Act) would establish a pilot program to transmit and receive electronic ballots from military voters. This one is waiting for a floor vote in the House.

2. Probably-not Evil Bills That Are On the Way to Enrollment, Possibly

    • S.B. 1448 (the We Can’t Get Our Act Together To Do A Primary Bill) would authorize a state party to contract with county officials to conduct a party primary in those circumstances where the party can’t be arsed to organize itself sufficiently to conduct its own nominating election. This bill looks to sail through on the House Local and Consent calendar.
    • S.B. 1779 specifies that the order of candidate names on an expedited run-off ballot will be the same as the order of names on the expedited special election. Dumb, but there you have it – this one is on the House Local and Consent calendar.
    • S.B. 383 would give biggish counties a few more days to process their early votes that were cast by mail, in an effort to get all that business out of the way prior to Election Day and hopefully speed up the tabulation process. This one is on the House Local and Consent calendar.
    • H.B. 2027 (the Anti-Rolling Polling Place Bill) would require the use of county polling locations for local May elections. This bill is favored by the county election administrators, and opposed by the cities and school districts.The intended practice that the bill would limit is the targeted use of neighborhood early voting locations intended to capture voters that favor a position sought by local government officials. For instance, if a school district has a big bond package to pass, there’s an incentive to schedule voting to take place from 6-8 p.m. at the football stadium on the night of the big high school football game. And so on. Voter cherry-picking happens, and is not well-appreciated by those who see the practice as a dirty trick. However, the opponents of the bill note that taking away the choice of polling places can have equally disastrous effects on turnout, given that the county may not even maintain a precinct polling location within reasonable driving distance of the local government entity. Having lost so much autonomy already, what little choice is left to local voters might be taken away by a bill that favors “uniformity” over convenience. This bill has already been through the Senate Committee and is waiting to go on the calendar for a floor vote.
    • H.B. 2050 requires that county voter registrars report to the Secretary of State whether voters voted during early voting, by mail, or in person on election day. This kind of data is theoretically available, or should be, is hotly desired by candidates and campaign consultants, and is currently ineptly or incompletely reported by election officials. This is already on the Local and Consent calendar in the Senate.
    • S.B. 142 would allow a county to use the volunteer deputy registrar guide on the Secretary of State’s website to satisfy the “training” requirement that was imposed on volunteer deputy registrars in 2011. Those in favor of less onerous training burdens like this bill (e.g., Bruce Elfant, MALDEF, and the League of Women Voters). This one’s on the Local and Consent Calendar for the House.
    • S.B. 795 requires the Secretary of State to coordinate cross-checking voter registrations with the registrations in other states, subject to the National Voter Registration Act, to make sure that people aren’t simultaneously registering to vote in multiple states. Such cross-checking is perfectly reasonable, and happens in an ad-hoc and unsystematic way already. This is out of the House Elections Committee and ready for a floor vote.
    • S.B. 733 would prohibit municipal utility districts from moving their election dates. A few MUDs have arguably tried to play a little fast-and-loose with their election schedules in order to artificially extend their tenure in office. S.B. 733 is now the subject of a joint conference committee to hammer out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
    • H.B. 2366 would clarify that the early voting clerk is supposed to deliver a list of people who voted early to the Election Day precinct judge not later than the day before Election Day. This bill has already been heard, and is waiting to be calendared.

3. Bills that Are Probably Dead

  • H.B. 2644 would expand an existing notice requirement following county redistricting – all counties, regardless of population, would have to notify county party chairs of changes in county election precinct boundary lines following redistricting. (Currently, the party chairs only get formal notice when in counties with populations of a million or more). This bill has been referred to Senate State Affairs.
  • H.B. 675 (The OMG Scary Technology Is Out of Control Bill) tries gamely to deal with the vagaries and desires of smart phone owners. On the one hand, we don’t want people taking pictures of stuff inside a polling place – they could be identifying ballot choices, getting a leg up on secret information about voting trends, etc. On the other hand, who doesn’t love their smart phones – what if you’re a voter who has just typed all your tentative choices into your online notes, but now you’re in the booth and you can’t remember who it was you wanted to vote for. And that mean election judge is threatening to destroy you for slipping your phone out of your pocket while voting. Ack! What to do? This bill specifies that you can still use your phone as long as you just use it for your own benefit in the voting booth, but not to spy on other voters. This is another “pending” bill in Senate State Affairs.
  • H.B. 621 is an odd duck of a bill. It provides more specific grounds for getting rid of volunteer deputy registrars – allowing election administrators to “fire” volunteers who destroy or misdirect voter registration applications. The odd thing about the bill is the assortment of strange bedfellows that it has made; the bill is opposed by both the Texas Democratic Party and the Republican County Chairman’s Association, as well as the Harris County Republican Party Ballot Security Committee and Bruce Elfant (the aggressively progressive Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector). The bill is supported by the Bexar County Elections Administrator, the Texas Association of Election Administrators, and the notorious True the Vote organization.

Whuh?

I suspect that the bill’s support comes from groups expressing a largely apolitical administrative desire on the part of election administrators to have more say in who gets to act as a volunteer deputy registrar, plus the rabidly anti-voter registration True the Vote bunch. The bill’s opposition probably reflects the fears on the part of partisans that any further throttling of volunteer deputy registrars will leave the candidates without any effective means of getting out the vote – using volunteer deputy registrars as punching bags may satisfy some short-term desire for political payback, but the long-term effects are bad for candidates on both sides of the aisle. H.B. 621 is now pending in Senate State Affairs.

  • H.B. 258 is an eminently reasonable (and therefore likely doomed) bill that requires a county voter registrar to explain why a person’s voter registration application was rejected – the bill has been sent to Senate State Affairs where it is expected to get a chilly reception, given that it’s much easier to reject voter registration applications when you don’t have to give the voter specific reasons why their application was insufficient. Support for this bill has shaken out along partisan lines, with the Democrats being for, and the Harris County Republicans being against.
  • H.B. 2354 continues the ongoing saga of where to put the May election, a problem that has existed ever since the election calendar got screwed up when the Legislature moved the primaries to March. Currently the May elections take place the day before Mothers’ Day, which everybody hates. Unfortunately, everyone hates every other possible date available for the May election. Too late in May and it interferes with high school graduation. Too early, and it bumps up against the post-election management of the primaries in even-numbered years.

The May election date has bounced back and forth. It’s been on the third Saturday, the first Saturday, the second Saturday, the first Saturday, and the second Saturday. This bill would push it back to the first Saturday in May again.

My recommendation, as always, would be to move the primaries to June, and put the May election back in the month of April where God intended it to be in the first place. The Senate State Affairs Committee will hear testimony on this bill on May 18th.

  • H.B. 3122 is intended to provide some mechanism for correcting the knee-jerk rejection of ballots by the early voting ballot board, by allowing the election administrator to seek a court injunction to overturn the ballot rejection. This one has gone to the Senate State Affairs Committee to die a quiet death.
  • H.B. 2986 is a short bill intended to clarify that when a governing body canvasses an election, the information is supposed to be recorded in the minutes of the canvassing authority. Not a change in the law, but a reaction to the frustratingly mistake-riddled tendency by local governments not to maintain an actual election register as the law has always required. This one has been referred to Senate State Affairs.
  • S.B. 1984 (the Crimethink Bill) contains the astonishingly stupid idea that the Attorney General should be the one who canvasses the gubernatorial and Lieutenant governor elections, and not the Legislature. Why should an elected executive officer canvass the elections of the other top two statewide elected officers? Um. Reasons. Because otherwise, old, grubby lame-duck legislators will get their dirty little mitts all over the canvassing. This bill is dependent on the voters approving a constitutional amendment to upend the whole structure of state government. Or something.
  • H.B. 3056 [CORRECTION – thanks to Sondra Haltom] would allow late-arriving ballot APPLICATIONS to be effective in subsequent run-off elections. Pending in Senate State Affairs.
  • H.B. 1927 would permit one application for a ballot by mail to operate as a request for ballots for more than one election. This is schedules for a public hearing at Senate State Affairs on May 18th.
  • S.B. 1034 is very similar to H.B. 1927, and would allow an application for a ballot by mail to be operational for multiple elections. Pending in the House Elections Committee.
  • H.B. 1308 would permit a person to return a marked ballot by mail in person, rather than by mailing it. Um. Okay. Why exactly did you vote by mail? Anyway, this one is pending in Senate State Affairs.
  • H.B. 2778 would allow the transmission of emailed ballot materials to military voters for local (non-federal) elections, in the same manner as provided for in federal elections. This will be discussed at Senate State Affairs on May 18th.

4. Bills that are Boring or Stupid

  • H.B. 3902 authorizes the distribution of explanatory material to primary voters who don’t know what a party convention is, presumably to head off the problems caused by thousands of voters jamming up the party nominating process because they don’t know what they’re doing. This one is in Senate State Affairs.
  • S.B. 1073 (the Why Can’t I Google Every Candidate? Bill) requires that all candidates, as a condition of applying for a place on the ballot, must provide their email, mailing address, and website for their campaign. This one was referred to House Elections.
  • S.B. 19 (the No Druggies Running for Office Bill) is even more stupid, requiring that all candidates must submit to public drug testing as a condition of running for office. Okay. Not surprisingly, this bill died an ignominious death in committee.
  • H.B. 484 adds a requirement that candidates must also be registered voters in order to run for office, except when the State or Federal Constitution specify the particular requirements for the office. Again, huh – this is another example of a solution in search of a problem. Plus, it’s probably an unconstitutional restraint on candidacy.¬† Be that as it may, Senate State Affairs considered this at the May 14th public hearing.
  • H.B. 1026 specifies that a tabulation supervisor must also be a registered voter in the county conducting the election. [Correction – the purpose of this bill is to expand the available pool of tabulation clerks, and is viewed by the county election officials as a clean-up bill].
  • H.B. 2900 fixes a reference to the Election Assistance Commission. This one is on the Senate intent calendar.
  • H.B. 3880 (The We’re Sick of Judicial Petition Signature Requirements Bill) would repeal the requirement that appellate judges collect signature petitions on top of the other requirements to run for office. This one hasn’t been assigned to a committee yet.
  • H.B. 1532 would require quarterly finance reports from special-purpose political action committees. Okay. Scheduled for a public hearing on May 19th in Senate Business and Commerce.
  • S.B. 1437 would authorize the filing of electronic finance reports. Scheduled for public hearing on May 21 in the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee.
  • H.B. 1114 would require special PACs favoring or opposing school bonds to file ethics reports. Looks like the school voucher crazies may have killed this one.

Of course, the decision by the Legislature to punish gay people has upended the schedule for the end of the session, because the members of the moderate rump have all vowed to gum up the works and slow approval of around 200 bills. Most of the pending election bills aren’t particularly critical, and at least a few would benefit from dying (drug testing for candidates, disenfranchising people without drivers’ licenses). [Update – of course, as you know, the Democrats successfully ran the clock on the monumentally stupid “We Hate Gay People” bill, leading everyone to breath a sigh of relief].

But … what about all the good that could have been done this session? What about the broad bipartisan support for electronic online voter registration, an administrative godsend that would have saved the State money, gotten more people registered to vote, sped up and modernized election administration, and ushered Texas into the 20th Century? (Or at the very least, gotten us into the latter half of the 19th Century).

Alas, what I heard was that “broad bipartisan support” for online voter registration should have been read as “broad bipartisan support from people whose opinions don’t matter, but opposed by the tiny but powerful cadre of arch-conservatives who dread the idea of more people registering to vote.” Surprisingly, the Elections Division at the Secretary of State is rumored to have lobbied against online voter registration, which presages a disturbing partisanship in what should be a non-partisan office.

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