This blog post was co-authored by Luis Figueroa and Braelynn Barborka.
Regardless of race, place, or background, Texans value our democratic systems and agree that we must push to make them stronger and more accessible. Our democracy is only as strong as the systems used for national, state, and local elections. Registering to vote is the first step to participate in elections at all levels of government. In order to create a voter registration system that is accessible for Texans of all backgrounds and regions, we must change the current byzantine registration process. Most other states have done this by adding an option to register to vote online. In September 2022, there were 42 states that implemented a system of online voter registration. Texas should join these states to modernize our voter registration and strengthen our democracy for all of us.
According to the United States Election Project, Texas has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country, turning out 42.5% of its population of eligible voters in 2022 compared with a national average of 46.6%. The 88th Texas Legislature must address this low turnout. House Bill 212 by Rep. Bucy would create a system for online voter registration, modernizing the current system. Online voter registration creates a shared prosperity for all Texans, no matter our race or zip code, which would significantly improve voter access in several different communities:
- Young Texans: Data from The Kaiser Family Foundation show Texas voters aged 18-24 voted less than any other age group in the 2020 presidential election. This lack of voter participation is due to many different roadblocks, and voter registration is only one of them. An electronic registration system will make it easier for young Texans to participate in elections and fulfill their civic duty. A study conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice found that when Arizona implemented an electronic voter registration system, voter registration rates for young Texans doubled within two years. Texas could potentially see this same spike if we follow Arizona’s lead by passing HB 212.
- Rural Texans: Registering to vote can be a hindrance because of the long distances rural voters have to travel to reach voter registration locations. With an online registration system, rural voters would be able to complete their online registration either at home or at a public library, community center, or local school.
- Texans without a permanent residence: Having to re-register to vote is a barrier itself, particularly for people who move frequently and do not have a permanent residence. This includes people who live in apartments, people (primarily people of color) who are not homeowners, and college students. Data from The Pew Charitable Trusts shows that in 2022, 74.6% of white households owned their homes compared to only 43.5% of Black households. As a result, Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color must re-register to vote as they move because of a lack of home ownership at higher rates than white people. An online system as proposed by Rep. Bucy would streamline voter registration so that voters do not struggle finding voter registration forms or voter registrars.
The positive impact that online voter registration would have on Texas goes beyond accessibility for voters — evidence suggests that electronic voter registration costs less than our current paper system. The aforementioned study by the Brennan Center for Justice showed that Maricopa County in Arizona saved money by switching to an online system. The Center found that the processing of a paper registration costs about 83 cents, compared to just 3 cents per application with an online system. The savings that Texas counties could potentially accumulate by having an electronic system for voter registration allows for more savings or people centered programming. Online voter registration can also create more accurate and reliable organization of voter information, which would reduce the likelihood of voter data being lost or manipulated.
Our ability to vote and contribute to our democracy is essential to our continued fight for equity among all Texans. An electronic voter registration system is a great start toward strengthening our democracy.