By: Ruben Paquian of Texas Observer
About two-thirds of Texas high schools are not following a state law that mandates giving all eligible students the opportunity to register to vote, according to a new report. That means hundreds of thousands of potential voters have been left off the rolls.
For three decades, public and private high school principals in Texas have been required to distribute voter registration applications to all students who will be 18 years old that school year. The law stipulates that students be offered the applications at least twice per year. But without an enforcement mechanism or sufficient outreach by the state, compliance has been “abysmal,” according to the Texas Civil Rights Project’s report.
Since the 2016 presidential election, only a third of public high schools with more than 20 seniors requested a single voter registration form from the secretary of state’s office, the report’s authors found. In other words, two-thirds of public high schools in Texas didn’t even take the first step in complying with the law, leaving out at least 183,000 students in the last two years alone.
A map included in the report shows that the problem is scattered across the state, from major metros to rural areas. Most students in the Rio Grande Valley, a majority-minority region, aren’t getting voter registration forms at school; neither are those in large swaths of the Panhandle and West Texas.
Beyond school principals, blame also lies with Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, said James Slattery, one of the report’s authors. The law does not include a strict enforcement mechanism and leaves implementation largely up to the secretary of state’s office.
“Instead of working with civic engagement groups, parents and students, the secretary’s office has dragged its feet in implementing common-sense reforms to help high schools comply with the law,” said Slattery, a Texas Civil Rights Project attorney.