Texas high schools aren't registering seniors
Most people don’t know this, but all Texas high school principals – who are automatically deputy registrars – are required by state law to distribute voter registration forms “to each student who is or will be 18 years of age or older during that year.” The exception is that a principal can designate one person to serve in his or her stead.
If this law were followed, a lot more young people would be registered to vote than are. The fact is that few principals do more than have the forms available in their offices, and not many even do that, according to James Slattery, a lawyer with the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP).
He talked about the problem during a meeting in Austin of almost two dozen organizations from throughout Texas involved in registering high school seniors and hosted by a coalition of groups that work for the benefit of Texas youth.
Getting accurate figures is a problem, he said, because there is no system of tracking how many students are actually registered by principals. They are asked to request special forms at the start of each year, but the only information is how many forms each school orders, not how many are returned or how many students are registered
by other means, such as by outside groups coming into the schools or through the Department of Public Safety when students get drivers licenses.
But based on the number of forms requested, 14 percent of Texas public high schools and no private ones requested forms in 2016; in 68 percent of counties, no public schools requested forms.
The TCRP and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law did studies, data analyses, records requests and more for four years to get the Texas Secretary of State’s office to take notice of the fact that there was virtually no accountability and that reforms were urgently needed.
Among a list of reforms suggested, a final report concluded that high schools should be supplied with voter registration forms rather than have to request them. But none
of the ideas was accepted. Instead, the Secretary of State encouraged school superintendents to recruit principals to sign a pledge that they would participate in a program to register their students, and then they would automatically be sent materials to educate and register them.
It has helped, Slattery said. Between October 2016 and February 2018, the number of registered students doubled. The latest figures show 28 percent of public schools and two private ones requested forms, and 34 percent of ISD-wide requests were included in that figure. Just 35 percent of counties did now request any forms.
But still, 183,421 Texas students attend non-compliant schools. Not all of those students are eligible, and some have been registered through other volunteer deputy registrars or DPS, but the goal is to have every one of those students in compliant schools.
Meanwhile, organizations like the League of Women Voters and the many others who go into high schools to register students must keep doing that job until the day comes when registering to vote in school is as expected as getting a report card.