Escobar joins Democrats in Texas voter registration efforts

El Paso News

FILE – In this Jan. 18, 2020 file photo, a voting drive volunteer sets up a table in Richardson, Texas. Democrats are anxious about the coming presidential election and Republicans are more likely to be excited about it. That’s the finding of a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Texas Democrats are joining a coalition of progressive groups in launching a program to bolster voter registration across the state.

The program was announced on Tuesday by Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, as well as State Sens. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and Royce West, D-Dallas, and State Reps. Sefronia Thompson, D-Houston, Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, and Chris Turner, D-Arlington.

Democrats say the focus will be on ethnic and racial minority communities in response to Republican efforts in the Texas Legislature to tighten voting laws, particularly Senate Bill 7 (S.B. 7), which Texas Democrats successfully blocked last week by breaking quorum in a walkout.

“For every effort that Republicans attempt to suppress the vote and make sure that minority communities like ours don’t have a voice,” said Escobar, “we will redouble our efforts to make sure that we provide avenues to the ballot box.”

Escobar said she’s hired a full-time staffer to lead these efforts in El Paso, who will work closely with the Texas Democratic Party (TDP).

The goal is to register at least 1 million Democratic voters by targeting the 3 million eligible voters in Texas who remain unregistered. The program will employ traditional outreach methods of mailer distribution, field operations and door-to-door canvassing with digital outreach using targeting advertising.

The program is taking a person-by-person approach that considers a multitude of factors. Young voters, for example, will be targeted by online ads and Democrats expect them to take advantage of an app called Register Texas to help network engagement. Additionally, in-person and mail outreach will be conducted for people who live in apartment complexes and don’t have a phone number on record.

The massive voter registration push is a response to national efforts by Democrats to fight Republican-led efforts to impose stricter voting laws in states across the country. 

The Brennan Center for Justice reports that as of last month, GOP legislators in 14 states have passed 22 new policies to restrict the voting process in places like Georgia, Iowa and Florida.

“We have to have measures in place that make it easier to vote, and harder to cheat,” said National GOP spokesperson Paris Dennard. “A lot of minorities take this very seriously. A lot of people fought, bled and died for the right to vote.”

The Texas House Elections Committee said it never saw valid evidence of cheating, despite widespread claims by Republicans that voter fraud occurred in the 2020 elections.

“We spent hours and hours on the Elections Committee listening to people testify and come in and tell us about voter fraud and vote harvesting and all these issues,” State Rep. Art Fierro of El Paso told KTSM, “but there’s no proof.”

In Texas, GOP lawmakers found 16 cases of false addresses on voter registration forms out of 11 million voters, reports the Houston Chronicle.

Voter identification verification is central to Texas’ battle over voting access. In 2011, the state passed Senate Bill 14 (S.B. 14) that was the strictest voter identification law in the nation. The bill required voters to verify their identity using an unexpired photo ID from a list of seven eligible documents, a departure from the previous policy that allowed voters to use a more robust variety of identification.

The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that more than 600,000 registered voters in Texas, as well as many more unregistered eligible voters, were affected because they did not have an approved form of ID under S.B. 14.

Texas passed Senate Bill 5 (S.B. 5) in June 2017, which replaced S.B. 14 and adopted some compromises. S.B. 5 stipulates that Texas voters must present photo ID from a limited list, or can submit a non-photo ID and sign a declaration attesting to why they were unable to obtain the approved form of photo ID.

The state was sued by advocates who argued that S.B. 5 failed to rectify the violations of S.B. 14 and served to perpetuate discrimination.

“We fought against the Neanderthal voter ID law,” said Jackson Lee, “and won in the lower courts. It’s really an opportunity for us now to say ‘we’re not going to be denied.’”

Ballot harvesting is another concern of the GOP party and many bills have sought to eliminate drive-thru and mail-in voting.

“People voted for years — decades — without having ballot harvesting and these drop boxes and endless opportunities to vote on the weekend,” said Dennard. 

Democrats argue that modern voting processes are needed, especially when it comes to minority access to the vote and condemn GOP members for reiterating the false claims of former President Donald Trump that the election he lost was stolen, which has caused even more division. 

“Americans are tired of that,” said Jackson Lee. “And voting is crucial in order to make our voices heard.”

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