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Southern Lawmakers Offer Paper After Texas Rations Voter Registration Forms

Texas conveniently blamed "supply chain issues" for not sending forms to key voter registration groups, ahead of the looming Jan. 31 deadline.

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Photo: Ariel Skelley (Getty Images)

With Texas’ voter registration deadline looming on Jan. 31, the state—which requires voters to physically print and complete their applications on paper—recently announced a “paper shortage” that would require it to ration the number of forms going out to voter registration groups. Secretary of State John B. Scott’s office cited an alleged supply chain issue driving up the prices of paper, but a coalition of Southern state legislators are calling BS.

In a letter signed by 40 lawmakers from Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee, and delivered to the Texas secretary of state’s office on Thursday, the lawmakers pledged to send their own paper to support voter registration efforts in the state.

“Because Texas is one of just eight states that still does not allow online voter registration, you leave your voters with no option but paper,” the letter states. “Fortunately, we have paper in our states. We would like to extend an offer to the people of Texas to assist with the procurement of paper for the purpose of printing applications to register to vote.”

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While the lawmakers, who include Mississippi state Rep. Zakiya Summers, Florida state Rep. Fentrice Driskell, North Carolina state Sen. Natalie Murdock, and others, note that they “cannot, at this time, commit direct appropriations from our state coffers,” they offered to use “state and private resources that we can leverage to help Texas solve its problem.”

They also acknowledged that Southern states “share a common history, legacy, and core set of values,” and “chief among those values is Freedom—including the freedom to have a say in how our communities are governed, and the sacred freedom to vote.” Southern states also share a particularly fraught history of segregation and Jim Crow laws that denied Black people voting and civil rights for decades before the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

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“Voters in Texas, and across the South, deserve better,” they wrote.

The Texas secretary of state’s paper rationing solution, announced earlier this month just ahead of the voter registration deadline for the March 1 primaries, was nothing if not conveniently timed. Texas Democrats, who responded to the paper rationing announcement on Thursday by pledging to print and send out 500,000 voter registration cards across the state, have been clear about their intent to carry out a voter registration blitz among Latinx communities and communities of color.

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“The idea that voting registration could be restricted in Texas due to supply chain shortages is ridiculous and an offensive curtailing of the fundamental right to vote,” Florida Rep. Driskell said in a statement to Jezebel. “I stand in solidarity with other lawmakers from across the country in imploring Texas’ secretary of state to exhaust every possible solution available to fix this problem. And if they need paper, we’ll ship them some.”

Texas state Rep. Gina Hinojosa accused Gov. Greg Abbott and Scott of “playing political games with our freedom” and thanked her “colleagues from Southern states for stepping up and stepping in to help,” in a statement shared with Jezebel.

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As one of just eight states left in the country that still prohibits online voter registration and requires registration forms to be printed, Texas not-so-coincidentally maintains a number of other highly restrictive voting laws. These laws include SB1, signed into law just last September, which bans overnight early voting hours and drive-thru voting—both of which were particularly popular among voters of color last year—among other measures. SB1 came as part of a wave of voter restrictions increasingly being pushed in the South, like Georgia’s recent ban on giving food or water to those who are in long lines to vote. These long lines, you’ll note, are caused by Georgia’s targeted efforts to shut down polling places primarily in communities of color.

As for Texas’ dubious supply chain claims, shortly after the state’s League of Women Voters chapter called the secretary of state’s office on its bluff with a threat to sue last week, they were almost immediately sent 10,000 voter registration forms. Texas had initially promised the voter registration group just 50 forms, and eventually sent 1,000 forms, only to up this to 10,000 over the weekend.

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The League of Women Voters noted in its letter threatening to sue that the National Voter Registration Act requires states to make mail voter registration applications available through governmental and private entities, or groups that organize voter registration programs.