The Texas League of Young Voters stood together with other voting rights advocates to relentlessly advocate for minority voters in the 2012 Elections.
The Texas voter ID law threatened to leave an estimated 1.4 million Texans away from the ballot box. The legal battle to nullify the voter ID law was long and challenging. On August 30, the federal court agreed that the voter ID law violated the Voting Rights Act and that Texas could not enforce it for the 2012 elections. But even after voter ID was defeated in the courts, the public was faced with widespread confusion and misinformation about what forms of ID were acceptable for voters to use at the polls.
These residual effects of the proposed legislation made the task of preparing voters for Election Day much more difficult. We worked in coalition with other voter engagement organizations to ensure that our educational campaigns did not increase any confusion with voters.
Local radio, television, and print media outlets proved very supportive in our work to ensure that our communities were enthused and would participate on November 6. We worked with the Advancement Project to educate the community through local radio stations, among other venues and mediums for outreach. We also worked with Radio One Houston to engage the hottest local hip hop stars and radio personalities, such as The Madd Hatta, host of the Madd Hatta Morning Show and Def Jam comedian Ali Siddiq, at events and forums for young voters.
With the history of voter suppression in Texas and particularly in Harris County, our coalition worked on Election Day readiness to ensure no eligible voters would be turned away. Between meeting with election officials to discuss their preparedness for the general election, organizing and training volunteers to monitor polling sites from early voting through Election Day, and partnering with organizations like Common Cause, The Advancement Project, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights to protect voters—this was an all hands-on deck effort.
The first day of early voting in Texas proved to be record breaking by an increase of 20 percent from the 2008 participation levels or over 8,700 additional votes cast. Each subsequent day was also record breaking, as reported by the Houston Chronicle. Though the media did not cover the work that advocates and grassroots groups had done behind the scenes in the lead up to Election Day, it was clear our efforts paid off.
However, to our disbelief, Harris County was not ready on Election Day. On the first day of early voting, several locations in African-American and Latino communities reported problems of voters being turned away. In a polling site situated in a well-known African-American community, dozens of first time voters were told that their names were not on the rolls. Volunteers from the Texas League of Young Voters assisted those voters by printing off their voter certificate from the county’s website so they could vote. Dozens more who were not on the rolls did not have their names listed online. Volunteers assisted only to find that their cards had not been processed.
Still more were turned away even though they had registration cards and were told to wait until the “effective date” listed on the voter certificate to vote. For many, the effective dates said as November 5 and 6. We notified officials and the District Attorney clarified that despite the “effective date” on a voter registration card, all registered voters are able to vote in early voting or on Election Day.
Clearly, we have a long way to go towards free and fair elections in Texas. There was an array of problems, most of which we were prepared for but others that surprised even us. But I have no doubt that we would have had many more stories of voter disenfranchisement if it were not for the advocates, organizers and volunteers on the ground in the communities in the lead up to voting and on early voting days and Election Day. The amazing work and collective action of a team of tough Texans and allies from around the country secured progress in the right direction.