Today is National Voter Registration Day, which this year happens to fall two weeks before the official local deadline to register to vote for the upcoming November election: October 9. Your mail-in application must be postmarked by that date, because in Texas (at least for now), you can’t register to vote online.*
The deadline is looming even as efforts continue to be made to suppress voter turnout nationwide and right here in the Lone Star State. Using the virtually nonexistent crime of voter fraud as justification, state legislatures have passed voter ID initiatives (sound familiar?) that overwhelmingly impact minority and low-income voters. And following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down federal oversight of elections in Shelby County v. Holder, nearly 900 polling places were shut down in Southern states prior to the 2016 election, 403 of these in Texas.
Just a few months ago the Harris County Republican Party filed challenges to 4,000 voter registrations, claiming their addresses may have been incorrect. In what I'm sure is a coincidence, the chairman of the HCRP’s Ballot Security Committee, Alan Vera, previously founded True the Vote, an organization advocating for stricter voter ID laws in the wake of President Trump’s erroneous claim that “millions” of illegal votes were cast in 2016.
1,735 registrations were mistakenly suspended by Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett’s office as a result, though this was quickly corrected (“suspension” means the voters in question would have had to respond to correspondence from the County and vote in consecutive federal elections to avoid being purged from the rolls).
This sort of thing is taking place everywhere in the country, from North Carolina to Arizona, in blatantly partisan attempts to make it harder on voters who may not have flexible work hours, or don’t own transportation to get to a polling place. In short, minority voters.
The good news is, studies have shown the effect of voter ID laws on turnout is very small. The bad news? Voters can be their own worst enemy, especially when it comes to midterm contests.
In November, 2016, 61.33 percent of eligible Harris County voters cast a ballot. Not great, but in line with the national average, and better than the 2014 midterms, when just 33.65 percent did. I don't presume to speak for our nation's veterans, but I bet most of them are less insulted by someone kneeling for the National Anthem than they are by people not exercising the right that so many of them fought and died to preserve.
There's a surprisingly hotly-contested race for one of Texas' Senate seats going on, several Congressional seats are also up for election, as are the Governor, Attorney General, and a host of JPs and judges. The people we send to DC will be contending with the aftermath of a Supreme Court nominee with multiple credible sexual assault allegations and a President who engages in dick-measuring trade wars, alienates longtime allies, and expresses admiration for dictators. If you’re a habitual non-voter and none of this is enough to convince you to get off your ass and cast a ballot, you suck as an American.
You can look up local National Voter Registration Day events here.
Here’s how to obtain a Harris County voter registration application:
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1. Visit any Harris County Tax Office location and submit your completed, signed form from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Our location can be found here.
2. Download and print an application in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, or Chinese
3. Request an application online from the Texas Secretary of State.
4. Request, via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and our office will mail a paper application to you. Please provide a mailing address and phone number in your email. (Harris County Tax Office)
5. Call 713-274-VOTE (8683) to be assisted in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, or Chinese.
6. You can pick-up an application at your local U.S. Postal office, library, high school, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) site, Texas Health and Human Services Commission and other government offices.
Applications can be mailed to:
Ann Harris Bennett
Tax Assessor-Collector & Voter Registrar
P.O. Box 3527
Houston, TX 77253-3527
You can confirm your voter registration status here.
*A bill to allow online registration was blocked by former tax assessor-collector Mike Sullivan, and the issue hasn’t moved forward much under current assessor-collector Bennett, even though she ran on a platform supporting it.