Ajannah was one of approximately 120 attendees at Tuesday’s meeting in downtown Houston to become an a volunteer deputy registrar and help others register to vote. Thanks to a Texas law passed last year putting new restrictions on voter registration groups, only people who have attended a training are allowed to assist others in their registration applications.
Though Republicans claim to oppose enacting new bureaucratic rules, new regulations designed to make voter registration more difficult are a key exception. Republican legislators in Texas (as well as in Florida) passed legislation last year making it more difficult for groups like the League of Women Voters to register people to vote. In the Lone Star State, new rules ban people who are not eligible Texas voters from helping others to register to vote, undermining legal immigrants and people with disabilities. The law also imposes mandatory trainings on anyone who wants to help register others.
Prior to March of this year, groups like the League of Women Voters trained their own volunteers, quickly and easily showing them how to register people to vote. Under the new law, volunteers must get certified by the state to do so, making it more difficult and time-intensive for registration groups to operate.
There are a limited number of opportunities to get certified, typically 2-3 per month in Houston’s Harris County. Because of budgetary constraints, Tuesday was the final training in Houston; anyone wants to help register voters but hasn’t attended a training yet will have to wait until the next election cycle.
“As usual, we have a larger than expected crowd,” Suzanne Testa of the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office said, opening the training. At 120 attendees, the meeting was standing-room only. But two weeks earlier, Testa told ThinkProgress, a massive overflow occurred when 350 people showed up to get their certification.
As required by the state, Testa explained on Tuesday each minute detail ad nauseum, such as how to fill boxes on the form like name and address, and counting off five days from a given day when the forms needed to be turned in.
When Testa informed the crowd that their deputy registrar certification would expire on December 31, 2012, groans spread across the room. “I have to come back and get re-registered again in 4 months?” one woman complained.
“If you don’t like the new rules, talk to the legislature,” Testa said.
Most attendees ThinkProgress spoke with afterwards were not pleased to have to drive downtown and sit in on the training that one called “self-explanatory.” Attendee Erica Burnette said she wished there “should be a more streamlined process,” including the option of completing it online. “It’s a bit burdensome to come down here,” she said.
At the end of the meeting, a Nigerian man who’s been a legal resident of the United States for 11 years and hopes to become a citizen next year, approached Testa to ask whether he was allowed to help register voters. She informed the man, who didn’t want his name used for this article, that because of the new law, it was now illegal for him to do so. He told ThinkProgress, dejectedly, about how he’d been inspired recently by a friend of his to “get up and not be an armchair critic, to do something.” Though he cannot vote, he had hoped to take part in the political process by helping others exercise their voice.