Texas Democrats eye voter registration push at state convention

Texas Democrats eye voter registration push at state convention

The Texas Democratic Party (TDP) kicked off its virtual convention Monday with its sights set on reclaiming the state House in November.

Throughout the convention, which was forced online due to the coronavirus pandemic, the TDP will host several virtual trainings for convention-goers. Notably, two of the trainings will focus on voter registration and community organizing — a combination that TDP officials say they hope will increase voter turnout in November.

“It’s not that Texas is a Republican state, it’s that Texas is a non-voting state,” Lauren Pully, the TDP’s chief technology officer, said.

ADVERTISEMENT

The party is hoping to attract many Texans who haven’t voted historically if they turn out to the polls.

“Our basic theory is that the more voters that we register, the more likely the state is to turn blue,” Abhi Rahman, director of strategic communications for the TDP, said. “We feel like for every Republican voter that’s unregistered, there’s three or four Democrats that are unregistered.”

As a result, one of the TDP’s goals for the convention is to register 1,000 volunteer deputy registrars (VDRs) — people who can go out into their communities and help get people registered. For context, voting in Texas isn’t overly simple, and the onset of the pandemic has made it more challenging. The state doesn’t have online voter registration, so Texans wanting to register to vote have to either go to their county voter registrar's office or mail their voter application at least 30 days before an election.

The process to become a VDR also can be tedious. A person has to attend an official class run by their county to become one, and Pully noted that the classes can often be held at inconvenient times.

In Travis County — home to Austin, the state’s capital — VDR classes are offered “at 10:30 a.m. on the first Saturday of each month and at 10:30 a.m., 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month,” according to the county’s tax office website.

ADVERTISEMENT

The TDP’s virtual registrar training, scheduled for 9 a.m. on Saturday, is a novel approach to getting a large number of VDPs registered at once. Since it’s virtual, Texans from all over the state can get trained. Rahman noted that they currently had 2,000 people signed up to participate in the training.

Additionally, the party recently launched a voter registration portal on its website. Users fill out a brief personal information form and then the TDP sends them a voter registration application that is already filled out with their personal information, along with postage, making the registration-by-mail process easier. 

Rahman said that the TDP hopes to register 2 million new voters in Texas by November between the two initiatives.

Texas Democrats have also sued for expanded by-mail voting in the state because of COVID-19, but proceedings have become complicated. Last week, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that lacking immunity to COVID-19 doesn’t qualify Texans to apply for a mail-in ballot. Texas defines a disability as a “sickness or physical condition” that keeps a voter from voting in person without running the risk of “injuring” their health.

Texas residents can only qualify for a mail-in ballot if they are 65 or older, will be out of their county during an election, have a disability or confined to jail. However, there is another case in federal court, in which a panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay on an expansion of voting by mail that was ordered by a lower court. The issue is likely to head to the Supreme Court at some point, as the highest court in the land blocked the extension of primary absentee ballots in Wisconsin’s primary election.

All of this plays into the TDP’s main goal this election cycle, which is to win back the Texas state House. After winning 12 seats in 2018, Democrats were  able to cut Republicans’ advantage in the House to 83-67. If the party wins nine more seats in November without conceding districts already in its control, it would control the House for the first time since 2002, when the Texas GOP took control of the state House, Senate and governorship.

In January, in conjunction with the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee, the TDP released a list of 22 targeted state House seats in November.

Texas Republicans are still currently planning on holding an in-person state convention in July, though not all of the details on the event have been released. The Hill has reached out to the Texas GOP for comment on their November election strategies.