voting

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With barely half of eligible 18 to 29 year-olds voting in 2008, it seems many young citizens look at the political process and ask, “Why bother?”

KUT News has begun a reporting and outreach series this topic. It's part of a broader initiative, "Why Bother? Engaging Texans In Democracy Today," in partnership with the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life and KLRU-TV, Austin PBS.

Our first forum, “Why Bother? Voices of a New Generation,” is airing tonight on on KUT 90.5 and on KLRU, both at 8 p.m. 

The series and our taping on Tuesday has already inspired some conversation.

rockthevote.com

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

Could you create a mathematical formula to increase voter turnout?

The idea may sound far-fetched. But Travis County clerk Dana DeBeauvoir has an idea on what it might look like.

“It has to do with how well each voter is connected to their local community,” DeBeauvoir tells KUT News. “For example: Do you own a house? That’s a point. Do you have children in school? That’s a point. All of those add up.  And it turns out that people that have the most points of connection with their community are the people who vote.”

DeBeauvoir notes those variables are “roughly all about how old you are. It takes a while to get connected.” And those factors may have a lot to do with why young Texans are sitting out elections.

facebook.com/TravisCountyTaxOffice

Today is National Voter Registration Day, a push to get voters on the rolls before registration ends. (In Texas, that’s Oct. 9.)

According to a statement from the Travis County’s voter registrar, the county “enjoys the highest voter registration rate (78%) among urban counties in Texas.” That’s some 607,000 county residents. As part of National Voter Registration Day, officials want to swell that number to 650,000.

But will more registered voters actually lead to more votes and more engagement?

“There are about 460,000 registered voters here inside the city of Austin,” local political consultant Mark Littlefield tells KUT News. “We have about 79,000 likely voters in a City Council election. If it is a municipal election where there is no hot mayor’s race, you are looking at turnout of 30,000, about eight percent.”

flickr.com/athrasher

Several voter registration events are scheduled around town today for National Voter Registration Day.

The Travis County Tax Office on Airport Boulevard will be open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. to register voters.

The League of Women Voters and the Austin Community College student chapter of Unite Women will help people register to vote on ACC campuses today.

And both the Travis County Republican and Democratic parties are opening up their headquarters to help people register.

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Texas lawmakers heard today that there are at least 4,100 people in the Houston area alone that are registered at an address that is not their home.

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart told the House Elections Committee this morning that many of those people are registered at addresses at places like Mail Boxes Etc. or UPS. The problem is, he says, that these voters then may be casting a ballot in the wrong district.

Stanart said that state law gives voters too much latitude with their registration address  –  which he argued could lead to abuse and fraud.

“A number of people actually saying ‘I’m going to register at this UPS location’ and if a significant number of people actually did something like this, you could actually turn a state rep’s election," Stanart said.

Pew Research Center/2010 ACS

The Clean Air Force of Central Texas is forecasting another ozone day. The group is predicting an "unhealthy" or Orange Level day. Here is a roundup of some stories making news this morning:

Austin Home to Country's 20th Largest Metropolitan Hispanic Population

A new report by the Pew Research Center shows the nation's Hispanic population is fairly concentrated. The report analyzed census data from the 2010 American Community Survey. It found "nearly half (45 percent) of the nation’s Hispanic population lives in just 10 metropolitan areas."

Four Texas metropolitans are home to some of the nation's largest Hispanic populations. Houston ranks #2, Dallas-Fort Worth is #6, San Antonio ranks #9 and Austin comes in at #20.

According to the ACS data, Austin has a Hispanic population of 502,000, which makes up 31 percent of the city's total population. Hispanics make up an even larger portion of Austin's younger population. Among Austinites under 18 years old, 42.3 percent are Hispanic. More than a quarter (28.9 percent) of Austin's Hispanic population were born outside of the United States.

Of the 60 metropolitan areas with the largest Hispanic populations, two areas have Hispanic populations that make up more than 90 percent of residents: Laredo (#36 on the list) is 96 percent Hispanic, McAllen (#13) is 91 percent Hispanic.

Delay in Dead Voter Purge

State District Judge Tom Sulak has temporarily prevented Texas from ordering counties to purge possibly dead voters from their registration rolls.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Travis County resident Michael Moore isn’t dead. And he doesn’t know why he has to prove it to be able to vote.

Moore received one of about 82,000 letters recently mailed out by elections officials asking recipients to verify their voter status and prove they are not deceased, the result of a little-known House bill passed last year by the Legislature.

House Bill 174, sponsored by state Rep. Jim Jackson, R-Carrollton, requires the Texas secretary of state’s office to access the Social Security Administration’s death master file to check for deceased or possibly deceased registered voters and purge them from voter rolls.

flickr.com/stuseeger

Hays County is growing so fast that it has to add more voting locations for the November election. “Because the 2010 Census showed a large increase in populations (about 60,000 people more) we are required by state law to have our main early voting site plus one site in each of our Commissioner Precincts,” Hays County Elections Administrator Joyce Cowan said in a statement. 

The voting sites also have to remain open for the entire two weeks of early voting, in addition to Election Day.

In the last presidential election, Hays County had only one main voting site.

U.S. Department of Defense

Election Day Arrives

The polls are open this morning for the Primary Runoff Election.

Voters will choose party candidates in the U.S. Senate race. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Solicitor General Ted Cruz have been in a bitter struggle to be the Republican nominee. Former state Representative Paul Sadler and Grady Yarbrough, a retired educator, are in a runoff for the Democratic nomination.

Across the state, several U.S. congressional district seats, one state senate seat, several state representative seats and a spot on the Texas Supreme Court are also in the mix.

The controversial Voter ID Law that passed last year in the Texas State Legislature is going before a federal court. The trial begins today to determine if Texas can implement the law, which requires voters to show government-issued photo identification.

The state says the law will prevent voter fraud. The Justice Department worries it will disenfranchise Hispanic voters and claims it violates the federal Voting Rights Act.  A disproportionate number of minorities in Texas lack the necessary identification, which would prevent them from voting. Texas will have to persuade a three-judge panel of the law’s legality.

The Mexican American Legislative Caucus says during the 2008 and 2010 elections there was only one case of voter fraud in over 13 million ballots cast.

Photo by KUT News

At its meeting today, the Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously approved the use of vote centers for the November 2012 Presidential election.

Vote centers, or countywide polling places, give people the option to vote at any polling location in the county.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir says that vote centers are more convenient than traditional precincts and eliminate some confusion. She says that’s especially true considering that without the vote centers, the county would be required to add about 30 new polling locations for the November election because of redistricting.  

Image courtesy Travis County

Austin’s Mayoral and City Council elections are just about a month away – and if you haven’t registered to vote, time is running out.

The last day to register to vote in Austin's May contests is this Thursday, April 12. You can find the voter registration form here, along with instructions where to mail the form. To register in person, visit the Travis County Clerk’s office, located at 5501 Airport Boulevard.

To check your registration status and verify that it’s current, click here. Need to make updates to your voter registration? Check out this page for more information.

Photo by KUT News

Texas Challenges Voting Rights Act

Texas is challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that requires the state to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department for any change to voting procedures. Yesterday Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed that petition to a three-judge panel in Washington.

The roiling legal battles over election laws passed in various states have potentially far-reaching consequences: the fate of a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The landmark legislation requires the Justice Department to "pre-clear" any changes to election laws in some or all parts of 16 states, mostly in the South, because of their histories of racially discriminatory voting practices. The Justice Department recently used the mandate to block a voter identification law in South Carolina on grounds that it would harm minority voter turnout.

picture by KUT

UPDATE, 1:50 p.m.:  A point of order on Voter ID bill has been sustained. The bill is headed back to committee for a clean-up. The language in the bill said "Days"; the bill's analysis said "Business Days," so the bill was sent back to clarify the discrepancy.

Texas State Capitol Building
Image courtesy Dave Wilson Photography http://www.flickr.com/photos/dawilson/

Texas is one of sixteen states that offers voters the option of simply checking a box for a political party at the ballot box, forgoing the task of individually voting for each candidate. The practice is called "straight-ticket voting" or "straight-party voting" and Republican State Senator Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) doesn't like it.

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