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Re-deputizing registrars

Did you undergo the training to become a deputy voter registrar this year, perhaps at the urging of Battleground Texas? Well, you’re going to have to do it again if you want to register people for 2015 and/or 2016.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A decades-old part of Texas’ election code is receiving new attention as Democrats look to chart a path forward and maintain their ranks of volunteers qualified to register voters.

Perhaps no organization is expected to feel the effect more than Battleground Texas, whose thousands of deputy voter registrars will lose their certification Dec. 31, and will have to go through training before they can earn it back in the new year.

“This is wildly burdensome,” said Mimi Marziani, voter protection director at Battleground Texas. “The only logical explanation is that all of those things are aimed at the same goal, which is making it much harder to vote.”

Under state election law, deputy volunteer registrars serve two-year terms that expire at the end of even-numbered years. While the provision has been on the books since the 1980s, Democrats predict this year will bring its most far-reaching consequences yet because the number of deputy volunteer registrars has ballooned in just two years.

Activists cite a trio of bills passed in 2011 that toughened the provision. The new laws narrowed the qualifications to be a registrar, made it a crime for registrars to be compensated on the basis of how many voters they sign up, and ordered the secretary of state’s office to set up a training program for registrars.

Activists especially are frustrated with the training requirement, which they say is yet another impediment to building a stable community of registrars. It is one more hurdle the Democrats say they must overcome if they want to bounce back from their worse-than-expected losses in November.

State Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, sponsored House Bill 1570, which requires training for volunteer deputy registrars. He said the legislation may set up another hurdle for groups like Battleground Texas, but it is worth ensuring the registrars know what they are doing.

“It takes away the defense of ‘I didn’t know I couldn’t do that,'” Murphy said. “Clearly, I would agree it’s additional work, but so is having insurance for your house if it burns down.”

In a statement, Battleground Texas spokeswoman Erica Sackin said the group’s volunteers already are signing up to get re-deputized in 2015. Texas’ tough election laws “may have kept away other voter registration organizations, but they can’t stop our volunteers,” Sackin added.

For what it’s worth, I’m a fire warden at my office. I’m officially certified in high-rise fire safety. That means I attended a training session given by a Houston Fire Department captain, along with a couple hundred other people, and I passed an online test related to this training. That certification was good for five years, and as that five years expired a few months ago, I had to take an online review and re-pass the test. I didn’t have to undergo the four hour, in-person training class, I just had to demonstrate via this online test that I still knew what I was supposed to do. It’s not like anything has changed with the procedures in the interim, though I presume that if something had changed the building operations folks with whom we interact would have let us know about it, and it would have been reflected in the recertification test.

My point is that if this sort of process is good enough to be a city of Houston fire warden, it ought to be good enough to be a deputy vote registrar. I doubt anything has changed in how one goes about registering voters this year, and I’m sure local election admins have better things to do that to retrain a bunch of folks who already know the material. Sure, registrars should kow what they’re doing and what is required of them, but an online certification test would accomplish that, at a lower cost and with less inconvenience for all than making everyone trudge down to an office to be lectured at. You tell me what the purpose of all that is. A statement from Battleground Texas is beneath the fold.

At the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2014, Texans across the state who have been registering voters will lose the ability to do so — until they go through a training and get deputized for each county in which they would like to register voters. Thanks to a 1987 law, made stricter by the state legislature and Secretary of State in 2011, every single one of Texas’ Volunteer Deputy Registrar certificates will expire at the end of this year.

Battleground Texas Executive Director Jenn Brown released the following statement:

“This past year, nearly 9,000 Battleground Texas volunteers navigated through Texas’ arcane rules to be able to register Texans to vote — helping our state reach a record 14 million registered voters in 2014.

“Unfortunately, because Texas Republicans have passed some of the strictest voter registration laws on the books, every volunteer deputy registrar who was trained and officially deputized by their county will have to get deputized again to continue their important work.

“We know that our state is stronger when more people are able to make their voices heard at the ballot box. It’s time for Republicans to stop standing in the way of voters, and start supporting Texans’ rights.”

Texas has an estimated 3 million unregistered voters. Yet, in what the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice has called one of the strictest regulations in the country, volunteers in Texas must be certified by local government officials as a Volunteer Deputy Registrar (VDR) in a voter’s specific county of residence before helping that voter register to vote. If a volunteer collects a completed voter registration form for a county they are not certified in, even unintentionally, it is punishable as a criminal offense. On top of that, VDR certifications expire every two years, and volunteers must complete a state-mandated training program before being re-certified.

No other state requires county-specific deputization before conducting a voter registration drive.

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