Did the Pandemic Impact Voter Registration in Texas?

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The Texas Secretary of State’s Office reported, as of last week, the state broke a new record with just over 16.6 million registered voters. The state reported adding around 300,000 voters since July when it counted just over 16.3 million registered voters.

But groups that help register voters said they would have expected even bigger numbers for a growing state were it not for the pandemic.

“It’s not that they’re down, it’s that they’re not where we were hoping they would be if we had all been out in person trying to register people over the last six months,” said Barbara Larkin with the League of Women Voters of Dallas.

When the pandemic hit, Larkin said the League of Women Voters of Dallas pivoted to meet people online with voter education presentations. However, volunteer deputy registrars who distribute and accept voter registration applications could not work with potential voters in person.

“When people were doing in-person registration, that was a much higher probability registration. We knew those were going to get turned in,” said Larkin.

March to the Polls, which helps students in dozens of North Texas high schools register to vote, also went virtual. It created virtual presentations, but it was up to students to order or download a voter registration application, sign it and follow through with sending it in.

“Because of the pandemic, it’s really left the students to go onto the website and do it themselves without the motivation of the in-classroom work,” explained Richard Marcus with March to the Polls.

Charlie Bonner with MOVE Texas said it’s been harder to reach people in the pandemic when it’s not safe to go door-to-door or register people at large events without the benefit of an entirely online voter registration system.

“This pandemic has not caused problems, it’s revealed problems,” said Bonner. “It has shown how the system really works and who it works for. Going into this next legislative session, we’re going to be championing voting rights bills to make sure that we’re not leaving anyone out of this process.”

The nonpartisan “Center for Election Innovation and Research” published a study that says new voter registration in Texas dipped just over 23% from January to July 2020 compared to the same period in 2016.

Executive Director and Founder David Becker said the numbers began to increase in the summer, but not enough to make up ground lost in the pandemic.

“There is some room for hope,” said Becker. “In June and July, we saw a rebound and the numbers looked a lot more like 2016, but we’re still not making up that deficit that we saw in earlier months.”

Becker pointed to a new effort in Texas to identify eligible voters who aren’t yet registered and remind them to register.

In March, Texas announced it would be the 30th state to join the Electronic Registration Information Center. According to an announcement earlier this year, the effort would help identify voters who have moved within Texas, moved out of Texas, voters who have died and voters with duplicate registrations.

For the League of Women Voters of Dallas, Larkin said the group is easing back into in-person events while keeping the virtual meet-ups too.

“We feel like it’s a whole different way to get to people,” said Larkin. “That feels like it will be a positive in the end, we can do both now.”

Voters who plan to vote in the November 3 election must register by October 5. You can request an application to register to vote or check your registration status here.

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