Eight ways to improve voter registration, voter turnout

Bexar County will likely see more voters than ever before turn out for the mid-term election Nov. 6. In just eight months, 35,762 people have registered to vote in the county, bumping the total number of eligible voters to a record 1,109,417 people. For comparison, during the same time frame between the 2016 primary and presidential election, 24,566 people registered to vote in Bexar County for a total of 1,049,089 registered voters.

The numbers are on par with statewide data that shows increases in registered voters throughout the state.

What does this mean? It means this year’s election, which has thrust the Senate race between incumbent Republican Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, into the national spotlight, could make huge waves in the Texas political scene if voters make it to the polls.

But Drew Galloway, leader of the voter advocacy and education organization MOVE Texas, says there’s more that can be done to make registering to vote easier for Texas residents.

Here are eight things he said would increase the number of voters throughout the state:

1. Deputize Voter Registrars Statewide

As MOVE Texas expands beyond Bexar County, the organization has seen stark differences in how officials inother counties handle deputizing registrars. 

“Some counties like Harris County will allow us to fax a copy of our Bexar County form and they’ll send us a (confirmation) number,” Galloway said.

But Travis County, which Galloway considers the most progressive in the area for voting registration rules, still requires an aspiring registrar to physically attend the same training there that he or she attended in Bexar. Galloway suggests a statewide process for deputizing registrars.

“That gives us one number we can use across the state,” he said.

2) Online training for volunteer deputization

Classes to become a voter registrar are few and far between. In Bexar County, classes are held at 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. the same day. The county typically holds one class day per month, except in November and December. The problem, Galloway said, is the classes may be held at an inconvenient time for some people.

Another challenge, Galloway explained, is that one must take a class in each Texas county to be properly certified as a deputy registrar there.

“Right now, if I go to Guadalupe County, I have to take the class again there,” Galloway added. “If I go to Hays County, I have to take the class again there.”

Some Texas counties do provide online training, while others require a blend of online and in-person training. Regardless, Galloway suggested a focus on online training would encourage more people to volunteer their time.

3) Standardized statewide form for registering voters

Each Texas county has a different registration form. Travis County, for instance, may have a form with information in English and in Spanish. But in Bexar County, someone wanting to register to vote must ask for a form either in English or in Spanish.

“They all have the same information, they’re just designed differently,” Galloway said. “Why don’t we have one form that all the counties use?"

4) Voter registration drop-off at any Texas elections department

Another challenge is that when a registrar in one county registers someone who lives in another county, that newly registered voter’s registration card must be physically taken to that voter’s county of residence. Galloway said this consumes time and resources on the part of the registrars.

“The information is all going to the same place, there’s no reason why we can’t do this,” he said.

MOVE Texas suggests that any county elections office accept a statewide standardized voter registration card after completion by the voter; or that there be a drop box for those completed cards at the nearest elections office.

5) Extending delivery deadline for completed registration card

Currently, a registrar in Texas has five calendar days to deliver a voter’s registration card to the correct elections office after it's complete. Galloway suggests modifying the rule to at least five working days.

“If you’re a registrar, register a coworker in your office, you’ve got to figure out a way to get the card to the Elections Department between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on a business day. Otherwise it’s going to count as a violation,” he explained.

6) Bexar County high school pre-registration

Texas state law calls for high school principals or a designated campus employee to act as a deputy registrar who can register eligible students and school employees.

High schools must submit a form to request voter applications and campus registrars must offer registration opportunities twice a year to all students who are, or will be, 18 years old that school year.

But many high schools are not complying with state law, according to "Texas Monthly."

Galloway said the low compliance likely stems from school officials’ fearing perceptions of politicization of an otherwise non-partisan, civic act. He suggests the state or a county remind school districts of the law.

7) Monthly high school voter registration drives

PTA members, local grassroots groups, student organizations, and other third-parties could arrange more frequent registration drives on campus to increase voter registration.

This Texas Civil Rights Project report shows how it should and can work. San Antonio Independent School District is doing its part to raise the numbers, said Leslie Price, SAISD chief communications officer.

“All of our high school principals are deputy voter registrars and offer voter application forms in the fall and spring of each school year to eligible students.”

SAISD even hosted a districtwide student voter drive on Sept. 25, National Voter Registration Day.

“We will work with non-partisan groups to help register eligible students, staff, parents, and other community members,” Price added.

8) Extend free transportation for early voting, election day

VIA Metropolitan Transit has “Ride VIA to Vote,” offering free rides on municipal, state, and federal election days.

Riders need to present a valid voter registration card to the bus or van operator to get a free ride. Free rides are available for regular bus and VIAtrans paratransit service throughout the VIA service area.

Taxis and ride-hailing companies could also offer free or discount rides for poll-bound passengers with a valid voting card, something Lyft is trying out this election season. 

Lyft says it will offer free and discounted rides on Election Day. MOVE Texas hopes more ridesharing and taxi companies get involved in similar ways.

Take Action
Contact your local state legislator or agency director to help improve voter registration and voter turnout initiatives by clicking below. 
State Rep. Diego Bernal
State Rep. Justin Rodriguez
State Rep. Ina Minjarez 
State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins 
Bexar Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen
Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos 
VIA Metropolitan Transit