Civil rights activists say Texas officials are not doing enough to increase voter turnout, and claim the state may even be trying to suppress turnout. The Texas Civil Rights Project has released a report detailing what it says are the failures of state agencies and schools to register new voters. The group's director Jim Harrington says state law requires that high schools and government agencies conduct education campaigns about voting and provide ways for students or employees to register to vote. According to the report, many agencies and schools are not doing that, and the state isn't doing enough to enforce it. "The secretary of state's office does a very lackadaisical job of trying to facilitate the voter registration process," says Harrington.
Harrington's group has made a series of recommendations in the report, which they plan to take to state lawmakers next year. The proposals are geared at getting the state to do more to encourage voter registration and participation. "You shouldn't have to be in a situation where if you want to vote, you have to make a special trip, take time off and go down to the county courthouse to do it," says Harrington. "You ought to be able to register in a way that accommodates your work schedule or class schedule." Harrington argues the new Texas voter ID law combined with weak voter registration efforts creates voter suppression. "You get the feeling that (state leaders) prefer people not to vote, so it doesn't disturb the current power structure," he says.
Secretary of State John Steen is stepping down next month. For now, his office says they haven't read the report so they aren't commenting on it. But Steen and other state officials have pointed out to critics of the voter ID law that voter turnout actually increased in this year's elections, which were the first under the new requirement.