A combination of lax enforcement in the state’s election code, a faulty voter registration system and lack of leadership by state election officials have led to the disenfranchisement of thousands of Texans who faced challenges while registering to vote in the 2012 elections, according to a report the Texas Civil Rights Project released on Monday. The TCRP’s report largely focused on what the organization calls a problematic lack of enforcement power in the office of the state’s top election official, the Secretary of State, and calls on the Legislature to amend the Texas Election Code to give officials there the ability to enforce voter registration procedures at the state and local levels. The Texas Secretary of State’s office said while it does not have enforcement authority, it does educate and work with entities that carry out voter registration and ensure that voters are able to cast ballots. The report outlines several recommendations to improve voter registration, including additional oversight of state agencies that are required by law to register individuals who apply for state services.
“Sometimes the election code is a paper title,” TCRP director Jim Harrington said at a press conference on Monday, adding that the Texas Secretary of State’s office, which oversees state elections, is not effectively using its “bully pulpit,” as it has in the past, to deal with the increased amount of noncompliance.
Alicia Pierce, spokeswoman for the Texas Secretary of State’s office, said that the agency is not an enforcement agency and “has no authority to compel another agency to take specific actions.”
“We can work with them, educate them and encourage them, but we don’t have any statutory enforcement power,” Pierce said, adding that while the office has not fully reviewed the report they “are always willing to work with interested groups to improve the voter registration process.”
Despite the TCRP’s claims that registration applications were improperly handled, Pierce said that Texas registered a record number of voters — more than 13.6 million — leading up to the 2012 election.