Texas Democrats Begin Voter Registration Push as G.O.P. Eyes Limits
The Texas Democratic Party and a coalition of allied progressive groups are set to announce a major voter registration program on Tuesday, pledging to focus on registration in racially diverse communities at a time when the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature is vowing to pass a host of new voting restrictions, many of which would disproportionately affect communities of color.
The plan, which aims to register at least one million Democrats out of the state’s three million unregistered eligible voters, will be a combination of old-school field operations, mail outreach, digital ads and door-to-door canvassing.
It comes after Texas Democrats successfully blocked the state’s expansive voting bill, known as S.B. 7, in a dramatic late-night walkout. But Republicans in the state, led by Gov. Greg Abbott, have pledged to return in a special session and pass a similar voting bill.
Such Republican efforts have “increased the need for this work,” said Luke Warford, the chief strategy officer for the Texas Democratic Party. The voter registration effort, he continued, “is certainly a way to combat voter suppression, and we need to combat voter suppression in other ways too, like the federal government to pass the For the People Act, or our House members to stop whatever the next iteration of S.B. 7 is in a special session.”
The huge voter registration effort comes as Democrats across the country are struggling to stymie the Republican-led push to enact new voting restrictions through state legislatures that the G.O.P. controls. As of May 14, lawmakers had passed 22 new laws in 14 states to make the process of voting more difficult, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a research institute.
While Democrats nationwide are still hopeful that lawsuits against individual new voting laws will be successful, and that Congress will eventually pass one of the party’s big federal election bills — the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act — major voter registration campaigns could be another tool in Democrats’ arsenal to counteract voting restrictions.
Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, said that the program would most likely cost $13 million to $14 million this year, making it the single biggest investment in voter registration by the state party in its history. And the party is embarking on the effort in an off-year for national elections, an often sleepy time with a disengaged electorate and a recharging political base.
Texas Democrats were buoyed by their surge in turnout in the 2020 election despite losing at the presidential level and failing to flip either chamber of the State Legislature. But they face mounting questions about their strength among Latino voters, who backed former President Donald J. Trump in greater margins than in 2016, especially in southern counties in the state.
But despite those struggles, state Democrats see a potential path to victory through a pool of unregistered eligible voters that they say is overwhelmingly young and diverse.
“We have historically had turnout issues in Texas, particularly with the Latino community, which is a big part of our base,” Mr. Hinojosa said.
The program will take a targeted, nearly voter-by-voter approach to registration. If a voter lives in an apartment building and has no phone number on record, the first outreach will probably be an in-person visit or a flyer left by a volunteer with registration information. Younger voters will be targeted with online ads. And a new app called Register Texas (different from a 2020 web tool by the same name) will allow activists to sign in and find canvassing opportunities to register for.
The effort follows the blueprint laid out by Stacey Abrams in Georgia, with Texas Democrats aiming to cover every corner of the state to find voters to register.
“We got clobbered in the rural areas and in West Texas,” Mr. Hinojosa said. “So we’ve got a lot of work to do, but we think we can do it. Because the payoff for the Democratic Party nationally is great. If you’re able to take back the State Legislature, put yourself in the position of winning the next U.S. Senate race and also the governor’s mansion, then Texas is well on its way to becoming the battleground state that everybody wants it to be.”
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