September is Travis County’s Voter Registration Awareness Month – and the county Tax Assessor and Voter Registrar are kicking things off with a new online tool to help volunteers find new voters.
Citizen registrars can now use the county’s website to view lists and maps of addresses with unregistered and suspended voters, broken down by Travis County precincts. While the maps do not verify that eligible, but unregistered, voters reside at those locations, the new resource still helps deputy registrars and other organizations identify areas that may be neglected by the voting process.
According to Voter Registrar Bruce Elfant, the maps are the product of combining the county’s street address index and the registered voter database. Both resources are public record and do not violate any privacy laws.
Elfant has big goals for the maps. “I hope it will make voter registration drives in Travis County more efficient. My goal is that 90 percent of eligible citizens in Travis County are registered to vote. Right now we’re at about 74 percent.”
Counties across the state struggle with voter registration and turnout, and Travis County faces additional challenges. “Part of the challenge we have is that people in Travis County move a lot,” Elfant says. “When you move and do not update your voter registration, you will eventually be taken off the rolls. Last year we had to take 40,000 people off the rolls because they moved and we could not find them.” To remove this barrier, Elfant’s office is building partnerships within Austin’s real estate industry to incorporate voter registration into real estate purchasing and leasing –when you sign a lease, you sign up to vote.
The county’s push for increased voter registration falls against the backdrop of changes in state and national voting law. Since the Supreme Court deemed Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, thereby weakening federal oversight of election law, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott moved forward with implementing a controversial voter ID law. The legislation requires each voter to present a valid government-issued photo ID on Election Day; the measure was struck down by the Department of Justice while Section 4 was still law.
The measure now faces a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice, and another from U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, and Dallas County. The Austin City Council recently voted to explore methods to counter the voter ID rule; options include efforts to partner with the county in meeting the requirements of the law, and also joining existing lawsuits.