As promised, here are what I refer to as the “anti-ACORN” laws (the story of the ACORN slander is fairly well-known, and has been better told by others. Briefly, conservatives targeted an innocuous and fairly successful national community service non-profit for perceived crimes involving voter registration, and managed to so thoroughly trash the non-profit’s reputation that all of its funding dried up and it ceased to exist.
That the organization was subsequently vindicated and found to be innocent was irrelevant, as those who attacked ACORN likely were indifferent to whether the non-profit had actually committed any crimes or not. ACORN’s crime, such as it was, was to be perceived as an unusually successful political organizer of Democratic Party voters). Convicted felon James O’Keefe (the notorious right-wing agent provocateur) was instrumental in crafting faked videos that contributed to ACORN’s downfall.
In the wake of the ACORN slander, a number of Republican-controlled states considered or enacted laws designed to handicap voter registration efforts using more formal statutory powers. Notable examples of these restrictions were enacted in New Mexico, Florida, Wisconsin, and (of course) Texas. (For a comprehensive survey of these restrictions, and an interactive map of the restrictions state-by-state, see http://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/voter-registration-drives).
The statutory suite enacted by the Texas legislature was one of the most restrictive in the country, and included the following elements:
- A new mandatory testing and certification requirement for people acting as volunteer deputy voter registrars (Tex. Elec. Code Sections 13.031(e) and 13.047);
- Additional grounds for cancelling volunteer deputy registrar’s commissions, and (in a cruel twist) the rejection of voter registrations collected by a “defrocked” volunteer deputy registrar after the cancellation of appointment (Tex Elec. Code Section 13.036);
- An in-person voter registration delivery requirement (which effectively shuts down statewide or non-county specific volunteer deputy voter registration) (Tex. Elec. Code Section 13.042); and
- New and existing provisions that place volunteers at risk of criminal prosecution (e.g., if the deputy voter registrar transcribes confidential information on the application form (Tex. Elec. Code Section 13.004); fails to meet the delivery deadline for returning the applications in person to the county voter registrar (Tex. Elec. Code Section 13.043); knowingly induces false statements on the voter registration form (Tex Elec. Code Section 13.007), or (and this was added in 2011), if the deputy voter registrar is compensated on a performance basis for delivering voter registration forms (Tex. Elec. Code Section 13.008)).
So voter registration drives became more heavily regulated in 2011. But what has the practical effect been of these new laws?
The Texas Attorney General’s investigation and raid of the Houston Votes organization (which had been prompted by a complaint from the notorious True The Vote organization) occurred in 2010, prior to the enactment of the most recent laws., but the raid reinforced the risks faced by the organizers of voter registration drives.
It appears that the most dangerous thing a non-profit can do these days is distribute voter registration applications to minorities and the poor. The destruction of ACORN didn’t salve conservative anger following the 2008 Presidential election, and it appears that nothing less than scorched earth will answer the efforts of non-profit organizations to get more Texans registered to vote.