Bill of the Week: Voter Registration Made Easy?
Rep. Celia Israel wants Texans to register to vote online
House Bill 143. Author: Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin
Next Austin City Limits Music Festival, don't be surprised if you spot local state Rep. and vice chair of the House Elections Committee Celia Israel at the entrance with her iPad, ready to register you to vote. Well, that's if the Texas Legislature passes her HB 143, a measure that would allow citizens to complete voter registration applications online. (Not online voting, only registering – a conflation that has caused some confusion.) At present, you can complete a voter registration form online but you still need to print it out and send it through snail mail, steps Israel says slow down potential voters, especially younger generations. "Right now, I can order a super mocha latte from Starbucks with my cell phone," Israel said. "I can pay taxes with my cell phone. But I can't go online and get registered to vote. We need to change that."
Israel's bill would reduce time and taxpayer costs associated with non-electronic registration. Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant says it took county staff nearly two weeks to process all the voter registration forms received by deadline in 2014. And the County paid $160,000 on temporary employee data entry jobs during the 2012 elections – $100,000 could have been saved by electronic registration, said Israel.
Last session, Israel introduced similar legislation that garnered wide bipartisan support. But with vocal pushback from certain players (including the former Harris County tax assessor-collector), the bill didn't get very far. Israel is confident her HB 143 will fare better this time, as more and more states (including Republican ones such as Arizona and Kansas) have adopted online voter registration. To date, 34 states offer the option, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, has also filed a bill, HB 80, supporting online voter registration. "There's a lot of difficult issues to tackle this session, but this one's a pragmatic, good county government policy that should cut across party lines," said Israel.