School Law Requiring Texas Student Voter Registration Fails

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High schools in Texas are openly showing their disdain of the state’s requirements asserting that they register eligible students to vote.  According to the data of a recent survey done by the Texas Civil Rights Project, fewer than 4 percent of the states 3,709 high schools had even bothered to ask the secretary of state for any voter registration applications. This comes as a bit of a surprise since Texas has had a long-standing law that makes it mandatory for principals or other elected registrars to hand out registration forms and notices to eligible high school students at least twice a year.

“We have been working closely with the Secretary of State and other organizations to make sure that high schools across Texas meet their legal obligation to register high school students to vote,” said Mimi Marziani, executive director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, “But the low rate of requests for voter registration forms shows that deep problems still remain.”

When Archie McAfee, the executive director of the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals, was asked for a comment, he responded by saying he was not present at the office.

Students in Texas are eligible to vote once they reach the age of 17 years and 10 months. If a high school registrar does not distribute any state filled form, there is no mechanism which penalizes those who don’t distribute the forms in the first place.   

Principals of all schools in Texas have been sent official letters to remind them of their legal requirements. These include one sent on Aug. 30 and another the previous week. The few schools that are following the rule and requirement of the law are doing so in a way that adopts alternative methods. They don’t necessarily use the form issued by the state. They work with counties and other groups to register students as voters.

“At the end of the day, we just want to make sure that everyone has that opportunity to get registered, “said a state official.  

However, advocates of voting rights say that school administrators have been failing to comply with the law because they have been unaware of their voter registration duties.

In 2013, the Texas Civil Rights Project surveyed principals of all schools in the state. Only a mere percentage of 37 responded. Most of those who did said their schools circulated the voter registration applications at least twice each year as demanded by the law. 23 percent said they had never given them to students. This information clearly explains the reason why Texas has been near the bottom of the list when it comes to participating in elections. This year, only 21 percent of Texans, exercised their right to vote in the years primary elections. This is the lowest any state has hit if we don’t consider the four states which held any down-ballot races.