Author:
Kris Seago
Subject:
Government/Political Science
Material Type:
Full Course
Level:
Academic Lower Division
Provider:
Austin Community College
Tags:
ACC Liberal Arts, ACC OER
License:
Creative Commons Attribution
Language:
English
Media Formats:
Text/HTML

Voting in Texas

Overview

Voting in Texas

Learning Objective

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain the current requirements to vote in Texas and the registration process

Introduction

Before most voters are allowed to cast a ballot, they must register to vote in their state. This process may be as simple as checking a box on a driver’s license application or as difficult as filling out a long form with complicated questions. Registration allows governments to determine which citizens are allowed to vote and, in some cases, from which list of candidates they may select a party nominee. Ironically, while the government wants to increase voter turnout, the registration process may prevent various groups of citizens and non-citizens from participating in the electoral process.

Voter Registration Across the United States

Elections in the United States are state-by-state contests. They include general elections for president and statewide offices (e.g., governor and U.S. senator), and they are often organized and paid for by the states. Because political cultures vary from state to state, the process of voter registration similarly varies. For example, suppose an 85-year-old retiree with an expired driver’s license wants to register to vote. He or she might be able to register quickly in California or Florida, but a current government ID might be required prior to registration in Texas or Indiana.

The varied registration and voting laws across the United States have long caused controversy. In the aftermath of the Civil War, southern states enacted literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and other requirements intended to disenfranchise black voters in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. Literacy tests were long and detailed exams on local and national politics, history, and more. They were often administered arbitrarily with more blacks required to take them than whites.

Who is Allowed to Vote?

In order to be eligible to vote in the United States, a person must be a citizen, resident, and eighteen years old. But states often place additional requirements on the right to vote. The most common requirement is that voters must be mentally competent and not currently serving time in jail. Some states enforce more stringent or unusual requirements on citizens who have committed crimes. Florida and Kentucky permanently bar felons and ex-felons from voting unless they obtain a pardon from the governor, while Mississippi and Nevada allow former felons to apply to have their voting rights restored.

On the other end of the spectrum, Vermont does ot limit voting based on incarceration unless the crime was election fraud. Maine citizens serving in Maine prisons also may vote in elections. Beyond those jailed, some citizens have additional expectations placed on them when they register to vote. Wisconsin requires that voters “not wager on an election,” and Vermont citizens must recite the “Voter’s Oath” before they register, swearing to cast votes with a conscience and “without fear or favor of any person.”

How Does Someone Register to Vote?

The National Commission on Voting Rights completed a study in September 2015 that found state registration laws can either raise or reduce voter turnout rates, especially among citizens who are young or whose income falls below the poverty line. States with simple voter registration had more registered citizens.

Another aspect of registering to vote is the timeline. States may require registration to take place as much as thirty days before voting, or they may allow same-day registration. Maine first implemented same-day registration in 1973. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia now allow voters to register the day of the election if they have proof of residency, such as a driver’s license or utility bill. Many of the more populous states (e.g., Michigan and Texas), require registration forms to be mailed thirty days before an election. Moving means citizens must re-register or update addresses. College students, for example, may have to re-register or update addresses each year as they move. States that use same-day registration had a 4 percent higher voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election than states that did not.

In all states except North Dakota, a citizen wishing to vote must complete an application. Whether the form is online or on paper, the prospective voter will list his or her name, residency address, and in many cases party identification (with Independent as an option) and affirm that he or she is competent to vote. States may also have a residency requirement, which establishes how long a citizen must live in a state before becoming eligible to register: it is often 30 days. Beyond these requirements, there may be an oath administered or more questions asked, such as felony convictions. If the application is completely online and the citizen has government documents (e.g., driver’s license or state identification card), the system will compare the application to other state records and accept an online signature or affidavit if everything matches up correctly.

Citizens who do not have these state documents are often required to complete paper applications. States without online registration often allow a citizen to fill out an application on a website, but the citizen will receive a paper copy in the mail to sign and mail back to the state.

Voter Registration Rates in Texas

Texas fares poorly in recent comparisons of registration rates among states. In the 2016 elections, Texas ranked 46 out of 51 (including the District of Columbia) for the percentage of eligible population (excluding non-citizens for instance).

Qualifications to Vote in Texas

To be eligible to register to vote in Texas, a person must be:

  • A United States citizen;
  • A resident of the Texas county in which application for registration is made;
  • At least 18 years old on Election Day;
  • Not finally convicted of a felony, or, if so convicted must have (1) fully discharged the sentence, including any term of incarceration, parole, or supervision, or completed a period of probation ordered by any court; or (2) been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disability to vote; and
  • Not determined by a final judgment of a court exercising probate jurisdiction to be (1) totally mentally incapacitated; or (2) partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote.

Registration in Texas is generally done by signing a postage-paid voter registration application and dropping it in the mail. In most counties, the Tax Assessor-Collector is also the county voter registrar. Applications are available at county facilities and at many libraries, post offices, and schools.

You must be at least 17 years and 10 months of age on the date you apply, and the application must be received by the county or postmarked 30 days before any election in which you wish to vote.

Need to register to vote? You can fill out an application online or request to have an application mailed to you by calling the Texas Secretary of State’s office toll-free at 1.800.252.VOTE (8683).

Votes For 17-Year Olds?

Picture of i voted sticker
Figure 7.2 What if you turn 18 in the middle of an election year? You can vote in the November election, but not in the March primary in which the candidates are chosen. That's like coming in in the middle of the movie! State Representative Donna Howard (D-Austin) has proposed a state constitutional amendment to allow 17-year-old Texans who will turn 18 in time for a November general election to also participate in that year's primary.
Image Credit: Vox EFX (https://www.flickr.com/photos/vox_efx/3002776434) CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

To vote in Texas, it is helpful, but not required, that you have your voter registration card with you. You are required to have one of seven forms of photo identification, like a driver’s license or a passport, to vote. Citizens can also obtain an Election Identification Certificate free of charge at more than 225 Texas driver license offices throughout the state.

Once you are registered, there are a number of different elections in which you can participate.

Primary elections are conducted jointly by major political parties and the state, generally in March of even-numbered years, and is the process by which parties choose their nominees for a general election. Party nominees must receive a majority of the votes cast in their race – otherwise, a runoff election between the top two finishers is held several weeks later. Many states have closed primaries, meaning that a voter must declare their membership in a political party as part of the voter registration process. Only “registered Republicans” can vote in Republican primary elections in states like California.

Texas is an open primary state – meaning you simply register as a voter. A registered voter can participate in any party primary but can only participate in one party’s primary in each election and cannot vote in a party’s runoff election after voting in another party’s primary in the same election.

General elections are held in November, with the nominees of the major and minor parties, as well as independent candidates running for each position. Winning a general election does not require a majority, just a plurality – more votes than anybody else in the race. Rick Perry was reelected Governor of Texas in 2006 with just 39% of the vote in a four-way race against Democratic nominee Chris Bell and two well-known independent candidates, former Texas Comptroller Carole Strayhorn and writer/musician Kinky Friedman.

Registered voters in Texas can also participate in local elections to choose mayors and city council members, school board and special district board members – all of which must be elected with a majority. Constitutional Amendment Elections, generally in November following a session of the Texas Legislature, allow voters to consider changes to the state’s constitution recommended by two-thirds of the Texas House and Senate. Bond elections involve voters deciding whether or not to authorize government entities to borrow money.

Recall elections allow voters who live in home rule cities to remove an official from office, and are held only when citizens gather a required number of signatures on petitions demanding the removal of the official. In Groves, a city near Beaumont, a petition resulted in a November recall election for City Council Member Cross Coburn following the release of controversial photos from an online dating app. More than 62 percent of Groves voters chose to remove Coburn from office.

Home rule cities can also hold charter change elections – with voters choosing whether or not to adopt changes to the city’s basic governing document recommended by city officials. In 2018, Houston voters adopted a pay parity provision sought by the local firefighters’ union, which requires the city to pay firefighters the same as police officers of equivalent rank.

Rollback elections can be triggered automatically or by petition and allow voters to choose whether or not to decrease a jurisdiction’s property tax rate. In August, 2018, voters in the Amarillo area voted nearly 2-to-1 to roll back the property tax rate for the Pampa Independent School District. In March 2019, voters in Gonzalez, Texas, voted against a petition-driven proposal to reduce the city’s property tax rate.

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