No voter ID required to make your mark on Texas
By IMANI EVANS
The Dallas Examiner/Special to ETR
With the presidential election mere weeks away, Texas Secretary of State Esperanza “Hope” Andrade is on a mission to disseminate the most accurate information on voting procedures to concerned Texans, and to lay to rest any fears about irregularities at the polls.
Andrade’s office has stepped up a public awareness blitz, begun during the primary elections earlier this year, that has been named “Make Your Mark on Texas Through Voting.” The campaign includes voter education, outreach to local election officials and even the promotion of a new mobile app that puts the most important voting information in the palms of citizens’ hands.
“When we started the campaign, we wanted to make sure that we would be able to provide, that all the information would be readily available,” Andrade said about the app, called SmartTXVoter. “And so what we’re seeing, what the agency we hired was seeing, is that everyone is now communicating through their smart phone. I think over 50 percent of people have a smart phone and are accessing it.”
SmartTXVoter, which can be downloaded from the iTunes App and Google Play stores, can be used to schedule reminders for specific voting dates, research voting procedures online and even inform a voter about his or her registration status. The app is viewable in English and Spanish, and has already had roughly 4000 downloads since its launch earlier this month.
“So all of this information is readily available in the palm of your hand, and that was the purpose,” Andrade said. “We wanted to make sure that we could say that, that anyone who says, ‘Oh, I’m too busy’ or ‘I don’t have access to it’ that we say, ‘No, you have access to it.’”
Andrade said that the local election administrators and community leaders she has visited with have expressed excitement about the election and gratitude for her outreach efforts.
“What everyone is saying is that they’re glad that we are providing the resources, that we’re providing all the information out there, because this allows for people to be able to not use that as an excuse, that they don’t have the information,” Andrade said.
One of Andrade’s main goals is increasing the number of registered voters, and she said that the news on that front looks promising.
“At this time, we’re at 13.5 million registered voters,” Andrade said. “As I travel throughout the state, everyone is saying that they’ve seen an increase in the number of voter registration cards they’ve received, so we’re hoping that by the end of next week that number will have increased. 13.5 million is what we had in 2008, and so already we have that, and that’s not including all the new ones.”
Andrade said that she spends a large chunk of her time addressing some of the most common complaints that Texans have about voting, and giving pep talks to voters that she hopes will counter the defeatism and cynicism about the process that some voters may feel.
“We’re trying to bust those myths of ‘It takes too long,’ or ‘My vote doesn’t count,’” Andrade said. “It absolutely does count, and if you do early voting, which is Oct. 27 through Nov. 2, it won’t take you but a few minutes. So that’s the message that we’re taking out.”
Senate Bill 14, the voter identification law passed by the Texas Legislature in 2011 but so far blocked by the federal courts, has been a source of confusion and concern for some voters. Among other changes to voting procedures, the law would require that most voters present a non-expired photo ID at their polling place in order to cast a ballot.
Some state legislators, such as Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), complained that the extensive media coverage of the issue often failed to get across to the public that the law has not gone into effect. As part of her voter education campaign, Andrade emphatically reminds voters that S.B. 14 is not being enforced, and believes that the issue will not significantly affect the November ballot.
“The simple message is: there is no voter ID, you continue to vote in the same manner that you’ve always voted – that is, by presenting your voter registration card, or for a list of documents you can go on our website,” Andrade said. “I don’t want to confuse the public by going into detail. The simple message is there’s no voter ID.
“And I’m not asked that often,” Andrade adds. “In fact, I’m usually the one that has to prompt that and say, ‘I want to remind everyone that there’s no voter ID.’”
Likewise, Andrade believes that the recent controversy surrounding a directive to county voting officials to purge deceased Texans from the voter rolls should not weigh on the minds of voters. A lawsuit was filed by four living voters who each received a letter warning them that their voter registrations would be canceled if they didn’t prove within 30 days that they were alive. The four plaintiffs were among approximately 80,000 voters who were identified as “potentially deceased” by federal records.
A settlement was reached that shifted the burden to county registrars who must now prove, in the case of such “weak” matches that rely on incomplete federal data, that a voter was actually deceased.
“My responsibility is to make sure that we provide a clean voter roll, which we’ve tried doing,” Andrade said. “We had a little setback, but the process continues. Those ‘strong’ matches have been removed, and in the case of the ‘weak’ matches, every election administrator is looking at that. So we don’t see anything that really changed other than we had a temporary setback.”
Andrade is at the beginning of her fifth year on the job asTexas’ chief elections officer. She credits her many years as an entrepreneur inSan Antoniofor her straightforward, no-nonsense approach to ensuring fair and orderly elections.
“My background is, I was a businesswoman, and so you gave me the goal and I went after it,” Andrade said. “My goal is to make sure that all Texans have all the information that they need, and that’s what I do. I go out every day – I just got back from a long week of travel, and visiting chambers of commerce, and visiting with any group that will hear us – so if you set me up, I’m there. That’s my commitment.”
Andrade anticipates a 22-hour workday on Nov. 6, starting at 7:01 a.m. when the polls open. She anticipates a night of tension and excitement, but also a night when the diligent work of election officials and poll workers will be sufficient to keep the machinery of voting running smoothly throughout the state.
“I am looking forward to a good election, and that’s because I know how hard our local election officials work on making that happen, and also I’m optimistic that ourTexasregistered voters will go out and vote.”
For any questions or concerns about voting, call 1-800-252-VOTE. The official elections website is http://www.votetexas.gov.