Voters Bill of Rights signed in public ceremony
Document outlines what citizens can expect when they go to the polls
By GLENDA WOLIN
Most people take voting for granted. They register, and on election day they go to the polls and cast their ballots – or choose not to – without giving their rights a second thought.
For others, it is not so simple. Minorities have been denied their Constitutional rights in some circumstances for generations, and even when laws have clarified them, intimidation and injustice have interfered with their exercising them.
Anyone can come up against a problem at the polls and not know their rights in a given situation.
For that reason, the League of Women Voters of the San Antonio Area drew up the Texas Voters’ Bill of Rights, in English and Spanish, outlining 15 rights every voter in the state has, and held a signing ceremony at the Bexar County Courthouse on Jan. 19. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Bexar County Elections Administrator Jaquelyn Callanen and LWV–San Antonio Area President Madhu Sridhar signed copies of the document and addressed League members and representatives of civil rights organizations.
In introducing the Voters’ Bill of Rights, Sridhar said that “in this partisan atmosphere, the League chose to focus on the central player in our democracy, the voter.”
“On election day, it is not the campaign manager and not the pollster who will set the future course for our community or our nation. No one else matters except the voter.”
Lamenting the low voter turnout of Texas and Bexar County, she expressed her hope that the Voters’ Bill of Rights “will advance citizens’ knowledge regarding the right to vote and help to make a more effective and active electorate.”
The document will be printed in the League’s Voters Guide, which will be in all local libraries by mid-February. The League urges other organizations to print and distribute the document also.
Nirenberg declared the Voters’ Bill of Rights as a reason Texans should have no reason to avoid the polls.
“To the contrary,” he said, “they have the right to go to the polls to cast their ballot. They have the right, they have the privilege, they have the responsibility.”
He said some voting reforms are under consideration at City Hall that we will hear more about in the coming months.
“But indeed this is a watershed moment when we can recognize as local government the importance that every person has to participate,” he said.
“As a civic engagement nut, I’m really excited!”
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff broke some news as he praised Callanen for her steady hand at the helm of the Elections Department, taking voters from paper ballots to touch screen technology, not an easy transition.
“And now we’re going to go through another little change. We’ll be taking it up pretty soon in Commissioners Court: to go to the next iteration of voting machines.” He said it would cost about $12 million.
Wolff pointed out several actions by the Legislature that have added to the problem low voter turnout, including the many changes in the Voter ID process, the 14 elections in 18 months between 2015 and 2016, and the need for an equitable system of redistricting.
“I hope the League will continue to work with the Legislature and get them to do reasonable things that don’t drive people crazy,” he said.
“I hope you continue to work on issues that will encourage more people to vote and to have a system that protects the right of voters and that does it in a way that makes it easier to go to the polls and vote.”
Perhaps the most shocking statement of the day came from Callanen, who said that neither the Texas election code nor either party’s rules require or recommend notices of an upcoming election to be published in the newspaper.
The Commissioners Court, understanding the importance of informing voters – 1,059,000 as of now – pays for the notices anyway.
As for educating voters, that must be up to organizations like the League, NAACP, LULAC, and other civic groups, she said.
Speaking of the Texas Voters’ Bill of Rights, she said, “These are the basic rights. Please spread the word. Take these copies; shout them from the rooftops.”