National Voter Registration Day Events in Austin

Tuesday, Sept. 26 is National Voter Registration Day.

It’s also important to note that Oct. 10 is the last day to get registered before November 2017 elections (which in Travis County will be mostly ballot issues).

Here are a few voter-registration drives happening around town. You can find more on the official website.

Travis County Democratic Party

WHEN: 10 AM–2 PM, Tuesday, September 26
WHERE: Joe’s Bakery, 2305 E 7th St., Austin, TX 78702

Your Vote, Your Voice Block Party

WHEN: 4 PM–6 PM, Tuesday, September 26
WHERE: Planned Parenthood Clinic, 1823 E 7th St. Austin, TX 78702

Repro Power Austin Speak Out

WHEN: 6 PM–8 PM, Wednesday, September 27
WHERE: Austin City Hall

Why We Fight Gerrymandering

Democracy in America is in trouble. All across the political spectrum, Americans feel alienated from their government. They find it distant, ineffective, corrupt, and interested primarily in serving the powerful at the expense of everyone else. Many millions have given up in frustration, feeling powerless to do anything. Others have embraced partisan warfare, turning our politics into a zero-sum battle for total dominance. The spirit of compromise is seldom seen, and idealistic belief in the promise of democratic self-rule seems almost hopelessly naïve. These are the conditions under which authoritarians rise and republics fall — believing the system has failed them, people look to strongmen for salvation.

The promise of a “great leader” is a false one; only we can fix what is broken. The Founders created this government to serve us, the American people, and if the government is failing in that service, it is our responsibility to do something about it. Fatalism, hopelessness, and nihilism get us nowhere — we must recommit ourselves to the ideals and hard work of democratic self-rule and take the system back for ourselves. The task seems almost impossibly huge, but this is America — there is nothing our can-do spirit and grit can’t overcome. A huge task such as this requires that we choose a place to start: to fix our broken politics, we must first take back control of our elections, and to do that we must put an end to partisan gerrymandering.

“A huge task such as this requires that we choose a place to start: to fix our broken politics, we must first take back control of our elections, and to do that we must put an end to partisan gerrymandering.”

First, a brief primer for those unfamiliar with gerrymandering. Every 10 years, the federal government conducts the census, after which seats in Congress are re-apportioned among the states based on relative shifts in population. After each census, the states undertake the process of redistricting — new election district maps are re-drawn to account for the change in the number of seats. In practice, all the districts, state and Congressional, are subject to change, so the district maps can change significantly every 10 years.

Our system of redistricting is inherently corrupt: the party that controls the state legislature draws the boundaries of the districts for every state and federal elected official. As you might imagine, the party in power uses this authority to draw maps that magnify its own power and weaken that of its opposition, often resulting in monstrously bizarre districts; the first such district was called the “Gerrymander,” and that name has come to describe any district drawn with absurd boundaries that serve partisan ends. Texas, as it turns out, has been one of the worst offenders — for decades, Democrats drew shamelessly gerrymandered districts, and Republicans are now returning the favor with a vengeance.

As an example of the power of partisan gerrymandering, consider the effect of Texas’ 2003 off-cycle redistricting, engineered by Tom DeLay. Prior to the redistricting, Democrats held 17 Congressional seats to Republicans’ 15; after the election following the redistricting, Republicans controlled 21 seats to the Democrats’ 11, a 6 seat swing. This huge swing was not the result of changes in population or a wave of political change; it was due almost entirely to how lines were drawn on a map. This is what happens when legislators are allowed to choose their voters.

“This huge swing was not the result of changes in population or a wave of political change; it was due almost entirely to how lines were drawn on a map.”

Partisan gerrymandering has tremendously corrosive effects upon our democratic system. Its tainted process and the absurd districts it produces are tangible evidence to the electorate that the system is rigged, eroding their faith in our elections. Gerrymandered districts can span hundreds of miles, joining together dissimilar communities with no real connection, resulting in “representatives” who represent little beyond raw, partisan power. The near-certainty of incumbent reelection in gerrymandered districts depresses turnout, discourages challengers from running, and contributes to elections being determined by small percentages of voters in increasingly partisan primaries. Artificially large legislative majorities are constructed, producing skewed policy outcomes and a false impression of ideological dominance. Partisan gerrymandering is a perversion of democracy, sacrificing fair elections and faithful representation to partisan advantage and the will to power.

This corrupt process has always been a problem in American politics, but the need to end it is greater now than it has ever been. The advent of Big Data and sophisticated statistical analysis have made it possible for parties to combine electoral, demographic, and consumer preference information in a way that allows them to predict with great accuracy how people will vote down to an almost individual level. The result is partisan gerrymanders of exceptional precision and durability, endowing dominant parties with artificially large majorities that are stable, even in the face of large changes in voter preference. These technical capabilities have only advanced since the 2010 redistricting, promising to make the next round of partisan redistricting even worse.

“Victory is possible: over 70% of Americans oppose partisan gerrymandering regardless of their political affiliation.”

We must act now, or risk America becoming a democracy in name only. This fight will not be short or easy — powerful entrenched interests in both parties do not want to surrender the power and security they gain from this corrupt system. Victory is possible: over 70% of Americans oppose partisan gerrymandering regardless of their political affiliation. Defending this system of institutionalized cheating is impossible, and no elected official wants to do it. If we are loud enough, organized enough, and persistent enough, we can force our representatives to publicly answer the question they do not want to hear: will you end partisan gerrymandering, or will you defend it? Faced with defending the indefensible, their system will crumble and we will take our first step in reclaiming the republic for the people.

Call to Action:

Call Cindy Burkett, chair of House Redistricting Committee, and Joe Straus, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives about Congressional district Redistricting. Ask why there aren’t hearings being held on bills that could end hyper-partisan, racist gerrymandering of Congressional districts in Texas. Bills awaiting hearing in committee are HJR 32/HB 369, HJR 74, and HJR 118. NONE of the redistricting bills introduced over the past 4 cycles have been called to hearing. That means that in the past 8 years, every effort to de-gerrymander Texas has been ignored.

Thanks to Degerrymander Texas. More info here.

Additional Voter Registration Training Classes Available

Two new voter registration training classes have been added for us! Get trained to register voters in Travis County (plus, thanks to a  reciprocal agreement with Williamson County, you will be able to get a certificate to register there as well).

PLEASE NOTE YOU MUST RSVP HERE FOR THIS TRAINING.

Training dates are April 15 and May 20th 10 am to 11:30 at the First UU Church, 4700 Grover Ave, Austin, TX 78756.

Train to Register Voters!

There is an easy way to help expand the voter rolls in Travis County and beyond. You can become a Volunteer Deputy Registrar (VDR) of voters. With 159 people a day (net) moving to the Austin area, according to this report, it is imperative that we stay on top of voter registrations.

Regularly schedule VDR training at the Travis County Tax Office, 5501 Airport Blvd, Austin, TX 78751 is the first Tuesday of each month with session scheduled 10:30-11:30 am, 12:30-1:30 pm, and 6:30-7:30 pm. Call 512.854.9473 for more information.

Training only takes about an hour and thanks to our awesome Travis County Registrar of Voters staff, they have recently made available to us a number of additional training days. Please take advantage of this training as soon as you can. Once trained, your VDR credentials are good through December 2018! What’s more, if you like, you can take advantage of the generous reciprocal VDR opportunity with Williamson County, so that you can register voters who live in that county as well.

So, you’ll know how to respond the next time a coworker mentions that they just moved to a new apartment over the weekend or you get introduced to a new employee who just moved here from out of state. You can ask, “Are you registered to vote at your current address?” And you can make it easy for them to get registered!

Each training session requires an RSVP so that they can have the correct number of materials available. Below are the next three special training days. Sign up now!

Tickets are no longer available.

Governor Abbott’s Cruelty Will Be His Undoing

Authoritarian regimes succeed only when there are enough lackeys willing to brutalize their fellow citizens on behalf of the autocracy. These lackeys do it without being told, and they do it with zeal.

One such lackey is Gov. Greg Abbott, whose fealty to Trump is painfully evident in the case of a Tarrant County, Texas, woman named Maria Ortega, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for voter fraud.

Ortega, a mother of four who has lived in Texas since infancy, is a U.S permanent resident. In other words, she is here legally, with a Green Card. Although Green Card-holders are prohibited from voting, Ortega voted (for Mitt Romney) in the 2012 election, and has said that she misunderstood the rules for voter registration and voting as a legal permanent resident. When the Tarrant County election office discovered she was not a citizen, and that she had voted in previous elections, they filed charges.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, for whom Ortega also voted, offered to dismiss the charges. In normal times, the charges would have been dismissed, or at worst Ortega would have been sentenced to probation.

But these are not normal times.

Tarrant County Attorney General Sharen Wilson disregarded Paxton’s offer and took the case to trial. A jury convicted Ortega of felony voter fraud and sentenced her to eight years. (It’s confusing, but in this case the jury, not the judge, determined the sentence. See first paragraph about lackeys.)

This injustice would have gone largely unnoticed had Trump not brought voter fraud into the national spotlight, and had Gov. Abbott not amplified it.

Our governor is gloating about separating a mother from her children for eight years. She will be in prison and then deported. There is no planet on which this punishment fits the crime, and our governor seems delighted about it.

Side note: The voting rights of Green Card-holders are not exactly clear. In fact, these are Google’s “instant results” for “Can you vote with a green card?”

This is clear as mud. Ortega voted in a state election, which this definition from Legal Zoom makes seem legal. But it’s not!

Whether or not Ortega knew she was repeatedly breaking the law by voting, eight years is an insane prison sentence.

So what can we do?

For Ortega: Probably not much, although watch this space for any updates.

But we are Indivisible and you know what that means…

If you live in Tarrant County

Call Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson at (817) 884-1400 and ask why she decided to move this case to trial when Ken Paxton offered to dismiss charges. Ask if eight years seems like a fair sentence. Also: The DA in Tarrant County is an elected office and in 2015 Wilson ran unopposed in the general election. (Please do not call if you are not a Tarrant County resident.)

If you live in Texas

Call Gov. Greg Abbott and ask him whether eight years in prison is a reasonable term for a mother of four who simply…voted when she wasn’t supposed to. Ask him if he’s ever made a mistake, and how he’d feel to have his family torn asunder over something so minor. Rapists and murderers do less than eight years. And when it comes time to for you to vote, remember Maria Ortega’s name.

If you live outside of Texas

Consider donating to the Women’s Storybook Project of Texas, which connects incarcerated mothers to their children through literature.

Voting Rights: Dispelling the Myths

Boy, is there a lot of misinformation on voting out there! I probably won’t be able to hit them all, but let me try to clear up a few of the pervasive myths that surround voting in the United States. Please keep in mind that my “expertise” is Texas specific, and that each state runs their own elections systems. However, those are largely differences in degree, not differences in kind.

The Myth: “I don’t want to register to vote because I don’t want to end up on the jury duty rolls!”

The Reality: If you have a State-issued drivers’ license or ID card, guess what? You are already on the jury duty rolls. Sorry folks. But like death and taxes (with apologies to my libertarian friends), getting on the jury duty rolls is inevitable. As the Travis County Registrar of Voters office told me, certainly, the State “can” pull your name from the voter registration rolls. The State can pull your name from any government listing that you are on. Fear of jury duty should NEVER stop you from exercising your right to vote.

The Myth: “I have a green card, so it’s my right to vote, but only in local or state elections, not Presidential.”

The Reality: Simply put, voting in US Elections is a right and privilege of US citizens ONLY. Qualifications to vote in the US are as follows:

  • You must be a US Citizen.
  • You must meet your state’s residency requirements. (However, if you are a homeless US Citizen, you are STILL eligible to vote!)
  • You must be at least 18 years of age on Election Day. Registration requirements vary by states. For example, in Texas, you may register to vote when you reach age 17 years and 10 months, but you can only vote when you turn 18.
  • You must register to vote by your State’s voter registration deadline. For example, in Texas, you must be a registered voter 30 days prior to the next Election Day.

The Myth: “I can’t vote because I have a felony conviction on my record.”

The Reality: Although each state sets their own rules, which you can find here, in the majority of states, you can absolutely vote if you are off paper! That is, once you have served your time and finished parole, you are eligible to vote. So get registered!

If you still have questions about voting or getting registered, check out the Texas Secretary of State’s Elections Division, Travis County Elections, or for other states, start here. The most important thing is that you get registered and vote. Every election. Every time!