Key Deadline Monday: Officials eye ways to beef up voting numbers

Published on Saturday, 1 February 2014 21:44 - Written by By Adam Russell arussell@tylerpaper.com

Texans are frustratingly apathetic when it comes to voting, said Dee Brock, a long-time member of the Tyler/Smith County League of Women Voters.

With the deadline to register to vote on Monday, Ms. Brock, among others, is hoping to change the trend of abysmal voter participation.

Texas ranks last in the number of registered voters who cast ballots. Slightly less than 8 percent of registered Texans voted during the November Constitutional Election. About 6 percent of the state’s voting age population visited polls. Smith County voter turnout fared a bit better, 6.4 percent, but only enough to fuel Ms. Brock’s frustrations.

The constitutional amendments “are things we live with every day,” she said. “Voting is the most important thing we can do as citizens and it’s very troubling to me that so few participate.”

About 11.5 percent of registered voters cast ballots in gubernatorial primaries in 2010, while 16.5 percent of county residents voted.

Ms. Brock and more than a dozen league members, many of them deputy voter registrars and able to sign residents up to cast ballots, gathered recently to discuss registering voters and the coming 2014 gubernatorial primary and general elections.

The league, among other efforts, has been working to register more voters, via signing up deputy registrars and educating residents through churches and civic organizations.

Monday is the last day to register to vote for the March 4 Republican and Democratic party primaries. All but two local races will be decided March 4.

Smith County Election Administrator Karen Nelson said applications sent by mail must be postmarked on or before Monday.

There are several contested local primaries, including Smith County judge, county commissioners, district attorney and justice of the peace. Statewide primaries include governor, lieutenant governor, land commissioner and Texas Supreme Court justices. Early voting begins Feb. 18.

Mrs. Nelson said registrations have been slow so far but that she expects to receive a mass mailing of applications from the state after the deadline.

Applicants must be U.S. citizens, at least 18 years old by Election Day, a resident in the county where the application is submitted and not convicted of a felony (felons may be eligible if they have completed their sentence, probation and parole).

It takes your driver’s license number or the last four digits of your Social Security number and a current address to register to vote in the county where you wish to vote. The state cross checks the information to verify eligibility.

Applications are available at the Election Office, 302 E. Ferguson St. in Tyler, or atwww.smith-county.com .

Photo identification will be required under a newly administered state law. Most residents have at least one of several identification options acceptable to vote.

If you have an unexpired Texas driver’s license, state identification card, Concealed Handgun License, U.S. passport, a military identification or citizenship certificate with photos — you can access ballots.

State and local election officials recommend residents with valid identification check the name listed on their preferred form against what is printed on their voter registration card to ensure names are the same.

Texas residents who are U.S. citizens and eligible to vote — but who do not have one of those forms of photo identification — can apply for Election Identification Certificates, which are free and valid for six years.

Election Identification Certificates are available at local Texas Department of Public Safety offices.

To qualify for an Election Identification Certificate, an applicant must prove U.S. citizenship and Texas residency. A certified copy of a birth certificate and two of 33 possible supporting documents, which include a Social Security card, W-2, an out of state drivers license, a voter registration card or pilot’s license, are required to prove U.S. citizenship and identity.

Certified copies of birth certificates are available at the Texas Department of Health and Human Services for $22.

Texas Secretary of State spokeswoman Alicia Pierce said her office has focused on informing voters above the age of 65 that mail-in ballots are an alternative. Photo IDs are not required to vote via mail.

Voters who will be out of the county on Election Day, 65 or older, sick or disabled or eligible but incarcerated, can apply for ballots by mail through Feb. 21.

Jamal Moharer of NDMJ, LLC, has offered to provide free taxi services to residents in need of transportation to acquire Election Identification Certificates at the local DPS office. He has also offered to get residents without transportion to and from polls on Election Day. Residents should contact Moharer and staff a day in advance at 903-592-4900.