AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Civil rights activists accused Texas officials Monday of not enforcing laws designed to drive voter turnout, while records show that if the first elections under the state’s new voter ID angered or confused many people, they’ve not complained to the state in force.
Past arguments had been that stringent voting laws and required government-issued photo identification would unfairly impact minorities and the poor. A report from the Texas Civil Rights Project shifted the dispute over voting rights from whether people would be turned away on Election Day to whether residents are given enough opportunities to simply register to vote.
The Austin-based group said a survey of public schools showed districts failed to give eligible students voter registration forms at least twice a year as required by law. It also accuses the state of doing little to promote voter registration opportunities.
“It makes the point that the system in Texas is lackadaisical at best,” said Jim Harrington, the group’s executive director.
The report comes more a month after Texas held its first election under a voter ID law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011. A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court this summer gave the state the go-ahead to finally implement the law. A challenge in federal court has been set for trial in September 2014.
Republicans have rebuffed criticism of the law’s potential to disenfranchise by pointing to higher-than-typical turnout last month for an off-year election. Data from state elections officials indicate the state hasn’t been inundated by complaints, either.
For the November election, 14 voters submitted complaints to the Texas secretary of state’s office that required a written response from a state attorney, according to figures obtained by The Associated Press. That’s just one more complaint more than the last off-year election in 2011, though twice as many as in 2009.
State figures also show elections attorneys logging 10 “informal” complaints this year, less than half of the 24 logged in 2011.
Alicia Pierce, spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, said the agency had not yet reviewed the report released Monday. But she said the agency was “always willing to work with interested groups to improve the voter registration process.”
Pierce also said her office is not an enforcement agency and can’t compel other agencies to take action. Among those criticized in the report is the Texas Education Agency over promoting voter registration in schools.
Secretary of State John Steen announced last week he would step down in January after a year on the job. His office touted a more than 60 percent spike in turnout from the last constitutional amendment election in 2011 to this year, when a high-profile referendum on spending $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund for water was on the ballot.
Harrington said the full impact of the voter ID law won’t be seen until the general election in 2014.
“We don’t know what the jam-up is going to be,” he said.
(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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