Issues: Voting

Voting rights: the fight continues

Dear Friend,

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the historic voting rights march at Selma and the passage of the Voting Rights Act. There were thousands of dedicated citizens and grassroots organizers who sacrificed their blood, tears, and too often their lives fighting discriminatory tactics like literacy tests, poll taxes, and brutal acts of terrorism in order to ensure that all eligible Americans can participate in our democracy, regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic background. Their sacrifice and achievement continues to stand as a lasting reminder that when we the people lock arms, stand up for what is right, and make our voices heard, we can move our nation and the quality of our democracy forward.

selma march

The 1965 Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights 


The right to vote and ensuring every eligible citizen has the freedom and ability to elect leaders who reflect their values are the fundamental foundation of our democratic process. But we are unfortunately reminded on a regular basis that it remains a work in progress to fulfill the constitutional promise that each and every eligible Texan has the right to have their voices heard at the ballot box.

Earlier this month, voters in Harris County and elsewhere around the state were forced to wait in unnecessarily long lines to cast their ballot, the state has continued its efforts to push a discriminatory voter ID law through the courts, and a lawsuit had to be filed against the Texas Department of Public Safety for failure to comply with the Motor Voter Law that allows Texans to register to vote when renewing their driver’s license.

These battles have regrettably become the norm, as we continue to face campaign finance laws that give corporations more of a voice in elections than the people, gerrymandered districts that dilute communities’ voices at the polls, and numerous other tactics to suppress the vote. As a result, Texas often ranks last or near last in the country in voter turnout, and our elected officials too often don’t truly reflect the values of the people.

So the fight continues.

As Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on State Affairs, the committee which handles election-related issues, I sent this letter to the Texas Secretary of State, the state’s chief election officer. In the letter, I asked the Secretary to “begin a dialogue with the legislature, county election officials, and county party officials about the extremely long lines in Harris County” and “investigate what went wrong and provide a list of specific recommendations – both legislative and otherwise – on how best to prevent this from occurring again in the future, including best practices across the country to estimate accurately the likely turnout at a given voting location.”

My letter continued:

I understand that no lines and no wait on Election Day are unrealistic expectations for any election, much less one that captivates the public and turns out thousands of new voters. But as you know, Texas already struggles with voter turnout, often ranking last or near last in the country. Adding long lines to the numerous barriers Texas already puts in place to make voting more difficult threatens to further decrease our disturbingly low levels of civic participation around the state and the overall health of our democracy.

Harris County and the State of Texas have a duty to do everything in their power to ensure the freedom to vote is protected, unnecessary barriers to the ballot box are eliminated, and the voting experience encourages voters to return to the polls in future elections, rather than discourages them.

Voting billboard 2015

Throughout my years in public service I have pushed for commonsense solutions to increase access to the ballot box and protect Texans’ freedom to choose elected officials who reflect their values. I authored the amendment that created Texas’ Motor Voter Law. I fought the Texas voter ID law at every stage and argued in court against Texas’ discriminatory redistricting maps. I have consistently pushed legislation for same day voter registration, automatic voter registration, making Election Day a state holiday to encourage voting, ensuring volunteer deputy registrars can operate in multiple counties, and numerous other reforms to advance and protect the right to vote.

It will be an uphill battle to pass these policies, but we owe it to those who sacrificed so much in previous generations to fight for these commonsense election reforms. It’s our responsibility – today and in the future – to honor what millions have fought for by taking meaningful action toward the preservation of a fundamental freedom: access to the ballot box.

I hope you will join me. Our state, nation, and democracy are stronger when all of our voices – regardless of race, gender, or economic status – are included in the political dialogue. Eliminating unnecessary barriers to the vote ensures that public servants like myself are accountable to all Texans’ priorities: high quality education regardless of where you live, an honest and fair justice system, infrastructure investment, and an economy that works for all Texas families, not just a select few.

Sincerely,

Rodney Ellis

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Vote. Vote. Vote.

Dear Friends:

President Barack Obama put it best: “I have got a simple message: we’ve got to vote … Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote.”

I’m writing to echo my President’s call to action. Today is Election Day for Texas’ Primary Election, and your voice is needed more than ever to help move our nation, state, and community forward.

Polling sites will be open from 7 am to 7 pm, and remember to bring your ID. If you’re in Harris County, you must vote at your specific polling location – click here to find your Election Day polling place and see a voter-specific ballot. If you’re in Fort Bend County, you may cast your ballot at any vote center location, which you can find listed here.

While the ongoing presidential primary has generated the majority of media coverage, local primary elections are critical to our community’s success. Yet so frequently, Texas ranks among the bottom of the country in voter turnout. In 2012, voter turnout was barely over 50 percent, ranking 48th in the nation.

I pledge to continue fighting for voter engagement in our community because I know we can do better, but I need your help. I am asking you to do your part by voting today and encouraging your friends, family, and coworkers to do the same. Make sure your community reflects your values by having your voice heard. Your voice is important. Your vote is important.

Know your rights!

If you have any questions about voting or concerns about your experience at the ballot box, please call the Voter Protection Hotline at 1-844-TXVOTES. It’s a free, public hotline that Texas voters can call with voting questions in English or Spanish. Hotline operators are lawyers or law students who have been specially trained in election law, and they’ve already helped thousands of Texans navigate the electoral system.

Voter ID: what you need to know

While ongoing litigation sorts out the future of voter ID, the law is currently in effect and you must comply in order to vote. Voter ID requires all voters to present one of the following forms of photo identification in order to be eligible to vote:

  • Driver’s license, election identification certificate, personal identification card, or concealed handgun license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety;
  • U.S. military identification card containing the person’s photograph;
  • U.S. citizenship certificate containing the person’s photograph; or
  • U.S. passport.

With the exception of the U.S. citizenship certificate, all of the forms of identification must be current or have expired no more than 60 days before being presented at the polling place.

If you or a family member do not have one of the forms of photo identification listed above, there is a free option available. The voter ID law created a new form of photo identification called an election identification certificate, which the Texas Department of Public Safety will issue for free at any driver’s license office.

More information may be obtained by clicking here or calling the Texas Secretary of State’s office at 1-800-252-VOTE.

Sincerely,

Rodney Ellis

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Remembering Dr. King

Dear Friend,

Today, the nation pauses to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King. Across the country, the deeds and words of this great man will be highlighted and given their rightful praise. Dr. King gave his life to the struggle of ensuring every man, woman, and child had the opportunity to achieve their own personal American Dream.

Just six days ago, I sat in chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives and listened to President Barack Obama give his final State of the Union Address. U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson invited me as her guest, and it was a privilege and pleasure to hear the President defend his legacy and lay out the challenges and opportunities that America will face in coming years.

President Obama’s election and re-election are testaments to the battles King waged to create a better, more inclusive, and freer America and the product of the struggle he and countless thousands endured. His efforts played an essential part in making it possible for someone who looks like me to be elected President of the United States. King’s work provided the foundation for change that continues to this day.

As President Obama spoke, I was reminded about how far we’ve come as a country in the seven years of his presidency. America has enjoyed 70 months in a row of private sector job growth, creating more than 14 million new jobs. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more than 17 million Americans have health care coverage they didn’t previously have, no one can be turned away for preexisting conditions, and our country’s uninsured rate is the lowest ever recorded. Today, Americans are free to marry the person they love, proving that all of us – and our marriages – are created equal.

But there’s still much more to accomplish.

During the State of the Union, President Obama outlined the policy proposals that he intends to pursue over the next year: “Fixing a broken immigration system. Protecting our kids from gun violence. Equal pay for equal work. Paid leave. Raising the minimum wage. All these things still matter to hardworking families. They’re still the right thing to do.”

The President is right. We need to keep America moving forward by pursuing Dr. King’s goal of “equality of opportunity” and economic justice – building an economy that gives everyone a fair shot. That requires affordable higher education, increasing the minimum wage, and closing wasteful corporate loopholes that make the tax system blatantly unfair for the average family.

We need to renew the protections in one of Dr. King’s most enduring successes: the Voting Rights Act of 1965, landmark legislation that outlawed discriminatory voting practices and upheld the principle of one person/one vote in this country. Yet, the voting rights advances secured by Dr. King and thousands of others are still under attack today through controversial voter ID laws and gerrymandered districts aimed at suppressing the vote.

We need further investments in clean air, water, and energy to protect the safety, security, and health of our children and grandchildren. Dr. King’s legacy helped give birth to the environmental justice movement, which promotes the right to a clean environment for all people, no matter where you live or how much you earn.

As President Lyndon Johnson said, “[y]esterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.” Dr. King and thousands of others risked their lives for the ideal that all men are created equal and changed America – and the world – for the better.

But that does not mean the work is done. The vast majority of Americans have not reached the mountain top, and it is the job of public policymakers to ensure everyone has access to the tools necessary to make the climb.

Today, let us rededicate ourselves to his call to action to shed light on inequality and demand justice for all. Dr. King’s dream is alive and well in our community today, and I am grateful to all who fight alongside me to ensure it is realized.

Sincerely,

Rodney Ellis


Liberty and Justice For All

Yesterday, the LBJ Foundation, on which I serve, awarded its most prestigious prize, the LBJ Liberty and Justice for All Award, to former President Jimmy Carter in recognition of his leadership in public service and his tireless efforts toward peace and human rights. What a privilege it was to be with President and Mrs. Carter!

The LBJ Liberty and Justice for All Award honors those, like President Carter, who personify Johnson’s belief that the mission of public service is “to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man.” At age 91, President Carter epitomizes Johnson’s passion for justice and dream of bridging racial and economic divides.

Though Johnson and Carter never met, as governor of Georgia, Carter wrote former President Johnson a handwritten note in December 1972, after a Civil Rights Symposium Johnson had convened at his presidential library. It read in part, “I have long admired you personally and deeply appreciate your tremendous and unprecedented achievements as president.” Johnson died a month later.

“It is a great personal honor to be given the Liberty & Justice for All Award in the name of Lyndon Johnson, a man who helped shape my life and for whom I have the greatest admiration and appreciation,” said Carter.

When Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976, he appointed a record number of minorities to high federal positions, created the Department of Education, strengthened Social Security, and negotiated a historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, which remains in place today.

Carter is one of four American presidents to win the Nobel Peace Prize, which he received in 2002, and the only one to do so as a former president. The recognition furthered his international reputation as a humanitarian and peace broker.

You can see more photos from the event by clicking here.


Do you have health insurance?

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act – or “Obamacare” – millions of uninsured Americans now have access to new health insurance options through a Health Insurance Marketplace. If you don’t have health insurance, you have about two weeks to check out available coverage options atwww.healthcare.gov and select a plan before this year’s open enrollment ends on January 31.

We will all get sick at some point in time, and access to health insurance is a critical part of ensuring that individuals and families are healthy and successful. Plus, if you are eligible and don’t enroll in coverage by January 31, you might have to pay a fine at tax time of $695 dollars per person or 2.5% of your income, whichever is more.

Many people are able to get a plan that works for them and is not too expensive because financial help is available for individuals who make between $11,670 – $46,680 and between $23,850 – $95,400 for a family of four. According to estimates for Houston, a 27 year old with an income of $25,000 might be able to purchase coverage with assistance for as a low as $81 per month. A family of four with an income of $50,000 may be able to get coverage for $52 per month after tax credits.

These plans purchased on the exchange will have new consumer protections and cover all ten essential benefits such as emergency services, prescriptions drugs, and preventive care – ensuring consumers get comprehensive coverage instead of a bare bones policy.

Information about these new health insurance plans, where to get in-person assistance, and how to apply for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program can be found atwww.healthcare.gov or by calling 1-800-318-2596.

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Sen. Ellis, BikeHouston, elected officials, and candidates to gather this Friday for “Tour de Vote”

(Houston, TX) // Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), BikeHouston, elected officials, and candidates for elected office will lead a “Tour de Vote” this Friday, October 30, as Houston bicyclists ride to the polls to focus attention on safe-cycling issues and encourage voters to participate in the elections in the nation’s fourth-largest city.

 A press conference will begin at 5:30 pm at Market Square Park in downtown Houston. The group will depart on their ride by 5:45 pm. Friday, October 30, is the last day of early voting ahead of the November 3 election.

“Fifty years after the Voting Rights Act was enacted to end legal barriers to voting, we should all honor the memory of those who fought for our right to participate in the electoral process, choose our leaders, and decide the important issues facing our community and our state,” Senator Ellis said. “I plan to ride to the polls to encourage all to weigh in during this election.”

“With the first open mayor’s race in six years, we hope for a large turnout in this election,” said Michael Payne, BikeHouston’s executive director. “Unfortunately, the trend has been for lower turnouts in municipal elections.”

“From a perspective of people who ride bikes, this election is critical,” Payne continued. “The next City Council will consider the new Bike Master Plan and will set the schedule for its implementation – the development of new bicycle-friendly infrastructure and policies to make riding safer on Houston streets.”

What:       Press conference with elected officials, candidates, and BikeHouston, urging people to vote in Houston’s elections. The press conference will be followed by a group bicycle ride to area early voting locations as a show of support for safe-cycling issues and participation in the electoral process.

Who:         Senator Rodney Ellis

                  Senator Sylvia Garcia

                  Representative Sylvester Turner, candidate for mayor

                  Chris Bell, candidate for mayor

                  Adrian Garcia, candidate for mayor

                  Council Member Robert Gallegos, District I

                  Council Member David W. Robinson, At-Large Position 2

                  Doug Peterson, candidate for City Council

                  Tom McCasland, candidate for City Council

                  Amanda Edwards, candidate for City Council

                  Brad Batteau, candidate for City Council

                  Carol Robinson, candidate for City Controller

                  Michael Payne, executive director, BikeHouston

When:       Friday, October 30, 2015, 5:30 pm press conference; 5:45 pm departure time for group bike ride to early vote polling locations

Where:     Market Square Park, 301 Milam Street, Houston, Texas 77002

Contacts:  David Edmonson, Senator Rodney Ellis’ office, (512) 463-0113

                  Mary Blitzer, BikeHouston, (281) 940-6139

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Senator Ellis and Senator Garcia work to combat low voting

(Houston, TX) // Senators Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) are joining the NAACP, LULAC, and Texas Civil Rights Project in a civic engagement campaign to promote voter registration and engagement in Houston.

Thanks to a partnership with Clear Channel Outdoor, the Senators will post over 20 billboards in English and Spanish in the greater Houston area to encourage citizens to register and vote ahead of November’s general election. Advertising space is being donated by Clear Channel Outdoor to the NAACP and LULAC for the campaign and is valued in excess of $75,000. Hundreds of thousands potential voters will view these messages over the coming five weeks prior to the voter registration deadline, which is October 5.

Voting billboard 2015

Click here for Senator Ellis’ billboard, and click here for Senator Garcia’s.

“I am honored to participate in this campaign to increase voter engagement in our community,” said Ellis. “As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act this month, we must take action to preserve what earlier generations fought to secure. The easiest first step is to vote. This November, Houston will undergo a dramatic change in our city’s leadership, electing a new mayor, city controller, and a number of city council and school board members. I want my constituents’ voices to be heard by making sure they’re registered to vote.”

“I am a proud Texan, but I know we can do better,” said Garcia. “Texas consistently ranks lowest in voter registration and participation, and as elected officials we should do everything we can to ensure that everyone who is eligible to vote feels welcome at the polls. It’s time for Texans and Houstonians to step up and show the rest of the nation that we are invested in making this state greater for our families by making our voices heard in the November election.”

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50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act

Dear Friend:

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This historic law was passed in response to an era in which many states, particularly in the south, mandated literacy tests, poll taxes, and other devices to institutionalize the disenfranchisement of the African American vote.

VRA50

There were thousands of dedicated citizens and grassroots organizers who sacrificed blood and tears fighting these discriminatory devices in order to ensure that all eligible Americans can participate in our democracy, regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic background.

We have come a long way to guarantee our citizens’ right to vote is protected, but we still have a long way to go. Instead of poll taxes and literacy tests of yesteryear, states now use controversial voter ID laws and gerrymandered districts to suppress the vote. In Texas, a federal court ruled last October that the state’s voter ID law “creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.” Just yesterday, the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act.

When it comes to redistricting, Texas was the only state in the country that adopted redistricting plans following the 2010 Census that have been ruled to be deliberately discriminatory against African American and Latino voters.

We are unfortunately reminded on a regular basis that it remains a work in progress to fulfill the constitutional promise that each and every eligible Texan has the right to have their voices heard at the ballot box.

Recently, Battleground Texas and Waters & Kraus LLP sent a letter to Texas’ Secretary of State on behalf of eleven Texas voters revealing further disturbing  reports of Texans’ voting rights being denied. Under federal law, whenever eligible voters apply for, renew, or update their driver’s licenses at a Department of Public Safety office, the state must give them a chance to register to vote or update their registration records.

1436480797_11537553_10153051975724624_2951340545498555058_o

Yet as the letter explains, the Texas voters named in the letter were unable to cast regular ballots in the 2014 general election either because their names were not listed on the registration rolls or their address information was outdated – even though each registered to vote through DPS. Several of these disenfranchised voters were denied the right to vote conventionally and forced to cast provisional ballots, some of which were not counted. One voter was unable to vote altogether.

The experiences of these eleven are examples of the systematic problems Texas citizens have faced. In less than two years, almost 5,000 Texans have complained to the Secretary of State about voter registration problems at DPS. This is probably just the tip of the iceberg, as those 5,000 are only the voters who made the effort to get their complaint on record. The majority of those complaints were reportedly caused by either a clerk at DPS failing to transmit the person’s request to be registered to vote or a confusing system that made it unclear whether people who updated their driver’s license information online also automatically updated their voter registration information, as well.

Unfortunately, voter registration problems at DPS are not new. A series of articles by the Houston Chronicle alerted state officials to these registration glitches as early as 2012.

I was encouraged  by the Houston Chronicle’s recent report that the Secretary of State’s office agreed to investigate these complaints and review the policies and procedures that caused them. This is an encouraging first step, and I urge the state to work with stakeholders in good faith to find common sense, inexpensive solutions to the chronic registration problems at DPS.

Litigation shouldn’t be the only tool our citizens have to guarantee their right to vote – especially in Texas, where we repeatedly rank near the bottom of the country in voter turnout. In 2014, turnout was 28.9 percent, ranking second to last in the nation. In 2012, it was barely over 50 percent, ranking 48th.

Working together, we can identify reforms that will not only protect Texas voters and increase voter engagement but will also make our voter rolls more accurate and secure.

selma

The words of President Lyndon B. Johnson, speaking to Congress 50 years ago, remain apt today: “We cannot, we must not, refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every election that he may desire to participate in. And we ought not and we cannot and we must not wait … the time for waiting is gone.”

Sincerely,
Rodney Ellis


Remembering Mickey

Tomorrow is the 26th anniversary of the tragic death of Congressman Mickey Leland, my boss, friend, and mentor.mickey

Mickey died as he lived, trying to end world hunger and serving as a voice for the voiceless. His story is worthy of celebration and remembrance, as the values he embraced still live on more than a quarter of a century later.

I still miss Mickey every day, but the lessons that he taught me will always guide my public service. He taught me that there are no lost causes or unwinnable fights. He taught me that patience, cooperation, and dedication are the small but vital steps of progress.

He taught me that change comes in constant and consistent action, not in one fell swoop.  He taught me that we are responsible not just for ourselves and our families, not just for our friends or neighbors, but for the people and children of the world.

And he taught me that we can all make a difference if we simply choose to get involved and take a stand.

So I am using the anniversary of Mickey’s passing as a moment to rededicate myself to the values that he espoused: courage, compassion, and a commitment to all people. I hope today’s solemn occasion will cause more to follow his lead.

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Sen. Ellis on 5th Circuit’s voter ID ruling

(Austin, TX) // Today, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) released the following statement in response to today’s ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Texas’ voter ID law:

“I’m pleased that the 5th Circuit agreed with the U.S. District Court’s findings that Texas’ voter ID law will have a discriminatory effect, preventing otherwise eligible voters from having their voice heard. Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, and today’s unanimous ruling by the 5th Circuit proves the law is still an essential part of protecting Americans’ access to the ballot box. Near last in the country in voter turnout, Texas should be working to get more folks to the polls – not to turn away legal, legitimate voters.”

“I call on Texas to do the right thing for once and not appeal the 5th Circuit’s decision.”

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Ellis: Reforms needed to protect and engage Texas voters

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. This historic law was passed in response to an era in which many states, particularly in the south, mandated literacy tests, poll taxes, and other devices to institutionalize the disenfranchisement of the African American vote. There were thousands of dedicated citizens and grassroots organizers who sacrificed blood and tears fighting these discriminatory devices in order to ensure that all eligible Americans can participate in our democracy, regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic background. We have come a long way to guarantee our citizens’ right to vote is protected , but we still have a long way to go.

Instead of poll taxes and literacy tests of yesteryear, states now use controversial voter ID laws and gerrymandered districts to suppress the vote. In Texas, a federal court ruled last October that the state’s voter ID law “creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.” When it comes to redistricting, Texas was the only state in the country that adopted redistricting plans following the 2010 Census that have been ruled to be deliberately discriminatory against African American and Latino voters.

We are unfortunately reminded on a regular basis that it remains a work in progress to fulfill the constitutional promise that each and every eligible Texan has the right to have their voices heard at the ballot box.

Recently, Battleground Texas and Waters & Kraus LLP sent a letter to Texas’ Secretary of State on behalf of eleven Texas voters revealing further disturbing  reports of Texans’ voting rights being denied. Under federal law, whenever eligible voters apply for, renew, or update their driver’s licenses at a Department of Public Safety office, the state must give them a chance to register to vote or update their registration records.

Yet as the letter explains, the Texas voters named in the letter were unable to cast regular ballots in the 2014 general election either because their names were not listed on the registration rolls or their address information was outdated – even though each registered to vote through DPS. Several of these disenfranchised voters were denied the right to vote conventionally and forced to cast provisional ballots, some of which were not counted. One voter was unable to vote altogether.

The experiences of these eleven are examples of the systematic problems Texas citizens have faced. In less than two years, almost 5,000 Texans have complained to the Secretary of State about voter registration problems at DPS. This is probably just the tip of the iceberg, as those 5,000 are only the voters who made the effort to get their complaint on record. The majority of those complaints were reportedly caused by either a clerk at DPS failing to transmit the person’s request to be registered to vote or a confusing system that made it unclear whether people who updated their driver’s license information online also automatically updated their voter registration information, as well.

Unfortunately, voter registration problems at DPS are not new. A series of articles by the Houston Chronicle alerted state officials to these registration glitches as early as 2012.

I was encouraged  by the Houston Chronicle’s recent report that the Secretary of State’s office agreed to investigate these complaints and review the policies and procedures that caused them. This is an encouraging first step, and I urge the state to work with stakeholders in good faith to find common sense, inexpensive solutions to the chronic registration problems at DPS.

Litigation shouldn’t be the only tool our citizens have to guarantee their  right to vote – especially in Texas, where we repeatedly rank in the bottom of the country in voter turnout. In 2014, turnout was 28.9 percent, ranking second to last in the nation. In 2012, it was barely over 50 percent, ranking 48th.

Working together, we can identify reforms that will not only protect Texas voters and increase voter engagement but will also make our voter rolls more accurate and secure. The words of President Lyndon B. Johnson, speaking to Congress 50 years ago, remain apt today: “We cannot, we must not, refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every election that he may desire to participate in. And we ought not and we cannot and we must not wait … the time for waiting is gone.”

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Sen. Ellis files voting rights legislation; reflects on tomorrow’s 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”

(Austin, TX) // Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) releases the following statement regarding tomorrow’s 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” part of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama:

“‘Bloody Sunday’ played a pivotal role in the long and painful struggle for civil rights and equal opportunities for all Americans,” said Senator Ellis. “Hundreds of heroes stood together 50 years ago, willing to sacrifice to make our democracy stronger and truly representative. This anniversary continues to stand as a lasting reminder that when we the people lock arms, stand up for what is right, and make our voices heard, we can move our nation and the quality of our democracy forward.”

“Unfortunately, that struggle is by no means over. We still have many challenges to face, both nationally and here in Texas, before we can reach our common goal. The advances secured by the sacrifices in the past are still under attack today, including the venerable Voting Rights Act of 1965. It’s our responsibility – today and in the future – to honor what millions have fought for by taking meaningful action towards the preservation of a fundamental freedom: access to the ballot box.”

Yesterday, Senator Ellis filed SB 990, omnibus legislation to improve and protect voting rights in Texas. The reforms laid out in SB 990 will eliminate unnecessary barriers to our constitutional right, while also securing the integrity of the vote. The bill does the following:

  • Criminalizes Deceptive Election Practices: Defines deceptive or disenfranchising actions, and sets related punishments in the Election Code. These actions include unlawfully restricting a person’s right to vote and removing the name of an eligible voter from the list of registered voters. This enshrines your right to vote freely and without undue influence from anyone, which before was not fully prevented.
  • Same-day Voter Registration: Allows qualified citizens to register to vote at a polling place on election day. This will allow otherwise eligible voters to register and vote on election day.
  • Youth Preregistration for Voting: Allows a person to preregister to vote on or after the person’s 16th birthday. Engaging young people to vote, who turn out in small numbers, can be made easier if they are registered when they get their first driver’s license.
  • “No Excuse” Absentee Voting: Allows all qualified voters to early vote by mail during the early voting period. This is commonly referred to as “No Excuse” Absentee Voting. This provision will give all people easier access to voting, regardless of their mobility.
  • Election Interpreters: Clarifies that a person can bring anyone of their choosing to serve as an interpreter while voting. If the local county has to provide an interpreter, they must be registered in that specific county or in an adjacent county. This would give flexibility to counties that don’t have enough interpreters and greater access to interpreters for non-English speakers.
  • Statewide Volunteer Deputy Registrar: Grants Deputy Registrars the ability to operate within any county of the state, regardless of where they were appointed. Current law limits Deputy Registrars to only registering voters in counties they are appointed, greatly limiting their ability to register voters at events that draw crowds from across the state.
  • Election Day as State Holiday: Establishes general and primary statewide elections as state holidays. It isn’t fair that working Texans have to either use their lunch break or wait until their shift is over to exercise their democratic rights, and this would fix that.
  • Election Day Law Enforcement: Expands enforceable action against poll workers to include any violation of the Election Code. A fair and open election process can be more easily ensured if poll workers abide by the rules.
  • Voter Registration Receipt: Requires that a voter registration confirmation receipt be given to applicants. This receipt must include the applicant’s and agent’s name, and the date of the registration application. A voter registration receipt would give proof to Texans who might not get their voter registration cards because of relocation or technical problems.

“I know that it will be an uphill battle to pass these policies, but I owe it to those who sacrificed so much in previous generations to fight for these common sense election reforms,” said Senator Ellis. “Our state, nation, and democracy are stronger when all of our voices – regardless of race, gender, or economic status – are included in the political dialogue. Eliminating unnecessary barriers to the vote ensures that public servants like myself are accountable to all Texans’ priorities: education, infrastructure investment, and an economy that works for all Texas families, not just a select few.”

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Sen. Ellis on 5th Circuit’s voter ID ruling

(Austin, TX) // Today, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) released the following statement:

“I am extremely disappointed the 5th Circuit has chosen to keep in place a law that just last week was ruled to be a ‘poll tax’ that was ‘imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.’ Near last in the country in voter turnout, Texas should be working to get more folks to the polls – not to turn away legal, legitimate voters.”

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