RELEASE: Texas Attorney General attempts to take civic participation backward with opinion on school voting
For Immediate Release
Thursday, January 18th, 2018
Contact: Zenén Jaimes Pérez
Phone: 512.474.5073 ext 116
The opinion will dampen statewide efforts to increase civic participation in our schools
Austin, TX — Yesterday afternoon, Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an official, non-binding opinion stating that transporting students and administrators from schools to polling locations serves no “educational purpose” and is therefore unlawful. This outlandish notion — that traveling to polling locations to cast a ballot is not always, in and of itself, an educational purpose — is quite frankly, dangerous.
The Attorney General’s opinion appears clearly aimed at chilling non-partisan efforts to expand civic participation in Texas high schools.
The opinion was issued in response to a request by State Senator Paul Bettencourt asking the Attorney General’s office to weigh in on a resolution supported by Texas Educators Vote, a non-partisan advocacy group, encouraging school administrators to incentivize voting by providing “no-cost” incentives to students and administrators to vote.
State law already stipulates that public resources, including staff time or equipment, cannot be used to promote specific candidates or measures. However, the opinion takes a step further and questions the “educational purpose” of providing transportation and otherwise encouraging in a non-partisan manner students or teachers to vote — undermining attempts to encourage voting and civic participation in our communities.
Last year, TCRP and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law released a report detailing how few Texas high schools comply with the state’s high school voter registration law, which requires every public and private high school to offer voter registration opportunities to eligible students at least twice a school year — due in large part to a cumbersome and complex process adopted by state officials.
Beth Stevens, Voting Rights Director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said:
“The road to lifelong participation in our democracy starts with our youngest Texans and this wrong-headed opinion by the Attorney General will serve it’s apparently intended purpose: to intimidate school administrators from educating students about and instilling a culture of civic participation.”
“Every day, teachers and students across our state are doing the difficult work of engaging their community in the civic process but, unfortunately, state officials seem determined to blunt their hard work at every turn.”
“Despite these efforts by the Attorney General, we will continue working hand-in-hand with our partners across the state to ensure that every single Texas high school has the opportunity and tools it needs to register their students and administrators to vote. We will also carefully examine this opinion for potential legal challenges.”
The Texas Civil Rights Project uses legal advocacy to empower Texas communities and create policy change. In its twenty-five year history, TCRP has brought thousands of strategic lawsuits, defending voting rights, fighting institutional discrimination, and reforming systems of criminal justice. Today — with dozens of high-caliber attorneys and professionals in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston and the Rio Grande Valley, and an extensive network of pro bono counsel and community allies — TCRP is among the most influential civil rights organizations in the Lone Star State.