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!

Justice, Safety, Opportunity at the TX Lege

State Senate Offices (for all SB- Senate Bills)

State House Offices (for all HB- House Bills)

Justice, Safety, Opportunity

Austin Justice Coalition and allied groups support the following bills and ask you to vote for them

Police accountability – (HB 854 by Reynolds, HB 158 by Dutton, HB 673 by E. Johnson)

  • Eliminate local conflicts of interest by sending officer involved deaths to an independent prosecutor
  • Increase transparency by providing the public a transcript of the grand jury deliberations that result in a no-bill when police shoot someone
  • Consolidate fragmented information about police shootings to allow for analysis and policy change

Safer traffic stops for all: end arrests for traffic tickets – (HB 567 by White/Coleman/Johnson, HB 574 by Thompson, HB 774 by E. Johnson)  If jail is not a possible punishment for an offense, officers should simply give a ticket and send the driver on their way. Sandra Bland would be alive today if the trooper could not have arrested her for failure to signal a lane change. Drivers do not believe they can be arrested for minor traffic infractions, and their instinct to question or resist increases tensions, making the stop less safe for everyone.

SB 292 — creating a grant program to reduce recidivism, arrest, and incarceration of individuals with mental illness (Nelson, Huffman, Schwertner) Money can be used for a variety of purposes including jail diversion and interdisciplinary teams to reduce police involvement in mental health emergencies.

HB 676 – 17 year olds will be prosecuted as juveniles (Wu) Currently, teens of 17 can be sent to adult prison.

  • Texas is 1 of only 9 states to send all 17-year-olds accused of a crime to adult criminal justice system.
  • Law enforcement is not required to inform parents of a 17 year old of their arrest nor do parents have a right to be involved in the court process
  • Teens held in adult facilities are at greater risk of suicide and sexual assault — 2/3 reported being sexually victimized by other inmates
  • Federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) requires 17-year-olds to be separated from adults to ensure their safety in adult correctional facilities, so teens in adult facilities can spend up to 23 hours per day in solitary confinement, which can lead to physical and psychological harm.

End poverty penalty: repeal Driver Responsibility Program – (HB 67 by White, HB 275 by Gonzales, SB 90 by Hall)

  • Unable to pay the surcharges (which are civil fees assessed on top of criminal penalties and court fines), some 1.3 million drivers have lost their licenses for nonpayment. Since a valid driver’s license is required to purchase liability insurance, many may no longer be able to insure their vehicles, likely increasing the number of uninsured motorists on Texas roads.
  • Survey data indicate that low-income drivers are more likely to lose their jobs, are less likely to find a new job, and are less able to afford increased insurance premiums after having their drivers’ licenses suspended for unpaid surcharges.

Deescalate the drug war: reduce penalties for low level pot possession – (HB 81 by Moody, HB 82 by Dutton)

More than 60,000 Texans are arrested and jailed each year for minor pot charges. Bills to eliminate jail for possession of small amounts of marijuana will deescalate many encounters between the public and police, and allow officers and local leaders to focus public safety resources on solving more serious criminal and safety problems.

More information about AJC’s Policy Advocacy efforts.

 

Thanks to Austin Justice Coalition for providing this list.