Editorials: Texas’s Voter-Registration Laws Are Straight Out of the Jim Crow Playbook | Ari Berman/The Nation
At 10 am on a Tuesday morning in September, Babatunde Adeleye, a 33-year-old naturalized US citizen from Nigeria, arrived at the Bexar County Elections Department in San Antonio. It’s a brand-new building in an otherwise unappealing industrial park along the interstate, 10 minutes south of downtown. There were inspirational posters on the wall featuring American flags and sunsets, highlighting words like “success” and “momentum.” Tunde, as everyone calls him, stood up, raised his right hand, and took an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State.” He was being deputized not as a cop, but instead to register voters. The parallels, however, were impossible to ignore: Texas treats voter registration like a criminal offense and makes it as difficult as possible to do. Tunde grew up in Lagos and studied petroleum engineering at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He got a job in the oil fields of Oklahoma but was laid off when the industry went bust. He became a citizen last year, so 2016 marks the first presidential election he can vote in. After moving to San Antonio three months ago, he began working with MOVE San Antonio, a progressive nonprofit that registers young voters. “I come from a background where poverty was the order of the day,” Tunde says. “The first step to empowering people to have a say in their community is to register them to vote. If you don’t vote, you don’t have a say.” Before he could register anyone, however, Tunde had to navigate Texas’s draconian voter-registration laws, beginning with this course. The state has no online registration, and anyone who registers voters must be deputized by the county at a training session that typically occurs once a month, sometimes less. The volunteer deputy registrars (VDRs), as they’re known, must be deputized on a county-by-county basis, and they can only be deputized in counties adjacent to their own, which makes statewide drives practically impossible in a massive state like Texas, with its 254 counties.