KUT News has received a lot of feedback on “Why Bother,” our series on voter engagement. Suggestions that include ideas for making voting and voter registration easier, personal recollections and more. We expect to hear more tonight, at a taping of “Why Bother? Voices of a New Generation,” in KLRU’s Studio 6a.
But one criticism KUT News has received involves the existing process potential voters need to take to vote – and whether local news organizations, including KUT, have done enough to make that process understandable.
A blog post by a local web designer, A. Lista, questions why KUT is probing voter disengagement when the actual process to voting is itself convoluted. The blog shows step by step what happens when one searches “how to vote austin tx” on Google. Seven screens later, the author says she is “exhausted, frustrated, and pretty annoyed with all the extremely unhelpful government websites:”
Both the local news and KUT have suggested many times that voters are apathetic and unengaged, but like the government, neither has aired simple instruction on how to actually go about voting. How do you know you’re registered? Where do you go to vote? These things are confusing.
Registering to vote in Texas isn’t that easy: one suggestion we’ve heard is that online registration would make things a lot easier. But Texas law requires voter registration cards to be sent in by mail or hand delivered in-person.
KUT News Intern Kelly Connelly, who hasn’t changed her registration since she moved to Austin from Arkansas, went online to begin the process of registering to vote in Texas. The first stop was one website KUT News had recently heard about: Vote411.org, a webpage operated by the League of Women Voters Education Fund.
The process seemed easy enough: First Connelly clicked on the Register to Vote icon on the homepage, which took her to a form where she entered information about which state she was in:
The next page included her personal information:
The site then created a PDF that she could print out and mail to Travis County’s Tax Assessor-Collector, who is responsible for voter registration. But here, she hit a snag: She tried on two separate computers, but could not get the form to print with all of her personal information. Instead, Connelly got blank pages, which left her feeling, well, marginalized.
That said, Connelly had also begun her voter registration process with Rock the Vote. Their online voter application form, she reports, was superior in that it allowed registrants to fill in additional data fields like previous addresses. And now we have another registered voter in Texas. (After she buys a stamp and mails in her form, of course.)
The Bottom Line on Voter Registration: There’s plenty that could be done to streamline voter registration: online registration, same-day registration and more. But under Texas’ current system, third party apps like Rock the Vote and Vote 411 are often registrants' best bets.
Either that, or going directly to the Tax Assessor-Collector’s office, filling out a form there and turning it in on-site. (You save a stamp that way too.) The Tax Assessor-Collector’s office is at 5501 Airport Blvd., and is open 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. There's even a no-frills voter registration form you can print out.
The Bottom Line on Where to Vote: Early voters can vote at any polling site in the city instead of going to their local precinct. Travis County has a list and map of 2012 presidential early voting locations.
If you want to visit your precinct on Election Day, once registered, you can search on the Texas Secretary of State’s Voter Information Search Selection page for the correct precinct number.
You can then take that precinct number to the tax assessor-collector’s list of polling places, which includes maps for each of the precincts.
But for the first time this election, Travis County has approved the use of vote centers, which gives citizens the option to vote at locations citywide instead of their specific polling place on Election Day.
The deadline to register for the Nov. 6 election is Tuesday, Oct. 9. Early voting begins on Monday, Oct. 22.