On Tuesday, June 30, the Texas Anti-Corruption Campaign (TACC) held a roundup of election-law changes in the 84th legislative session which recently ended. CG4TX President Joanne Richards was one of six panelists giving a variety of perspectives, with moderation by former state representative Sherri Greenberg. Below are some highlights from the discussion.
Cinde Weatherby (League of Women Voters) noted that the session made only minor improvements to election law, including the ability to vote by mail for all elections, emailing ballots to overseas voters, and election notices posted online. She said the lack of progress on voter ID issues was disappointing, with only a very minor change allowing voters to get a birth certificate for free. She emphasized the need to work together and increase voter registration.
Roger Borgelt, a Republican election law specialist, said he hopes the state will try again to pass online voter registration, and speculated that pending litigation over voter ID may have inhibited changes to this area of the law. He is not in favor of attempts to get money out of politics, but does favor disclosure of all contributions.
Kurt Hildebrand (Libertarian Party) expressed some frustration that Libertarians so often have to play defense — pointing to the defeats of HB 2595 (which would have restricted local control over initiatives) and HB 464 (which would have imposed filing fees for non-primary parties). He mentioned HB 484 — which requires candidates to be registered in the district they will serve — as one minor win. Like other panelists, he identified voter disengagement as a big problem, but suggested that more parties would be a solution.
Linda Curtis (Independent Texans) has been very involved with water issues in Bastrop County, and focused on the importance of “bubbling up” issues from the local to the state level. She expressed thanks to Rep. Elliott Naishtat (who was in the audience) for his opposition to HB 2595. She noted that parties often focus on wedge issues, and that about 50% of millennials identify as independent.
Glen Maxey (Democratic Party) described our state election system as “broken”, explaining that most of the seven members of the Elections Committee did not really want to be on it. He said that out of 150 House districts, only about ten are competitive, and the result is lazy legislators. He put the blame for blocking online voter registration squarely on Harris County, whose representatives had partisan reasons for doing so and found a key ally in Rep. Laubenberg.
Joanne Richards (Common Ground for Texans) said she was disappointed by the failure to get online registration, and by the defeat of HB 2088, which called for an interim study on judicial selection reform. This study was authorized by the 83rd legislative session, but failed to materialize. She is hopeful that the study can still be carried out before the next session. She said redistricting saps voter enthusiasm because incumbents draw district lines to protect incumbents. But she is heartened by the Supreme Court’s recent decision (Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission) to allow redistricting by independent commissions.
The TACC plans to hold similar forums on other activities of the recently ended legislative session, and what we can do to improve the political process in Texas. To keep informed, follow the TACC on Facebook.
Photos by Hamilton Richards.