The Dudley T. Dougherty Foundation

Legal Advocacy Program to Reform Voter Registration at Health and Human Services

Grant Information
Categories Community
Location Texas
Cycle Year 2016
Organization Information
Organization Name (provided by applicant) Texas Civil Rights Project
Organization Name (provided by automatic EIN validation)
Contact Information
Contact Name Stephanie Schweitzer garza
Phone 512.474.5073 x 102
1405 Montopolis Drive
Additional Information
Used for The Texas Civil Rights Project respectfully requests $5000 to support the development of a legal advocacy plan for voter registration reform at the Department of Health and Human Services. TCRP would use the requested funds to cover costs associated with initial investigatory and legal work including but not limited to: public information act requests, communications, travel, and staff salaries.
Benefits Through our efforts to reform voter registration practices at Health and Human Services, we hope to empower those who receive social service benefits administered by the agency, largely communities of color, immigrants, low-income families and other historically marginalized groups, to participate in the electoral process, have their voices heard at the ballot box, and in turn shape the leaders and policies that affect their community.
Proposal Description If the composition of the electorate reflected its demographics, there is little doubt that Texas’ elected leaders and enacted policies would, in turn, better reflect the needs and desires of all Texans — particularly communities of color, recent immigrants, low-income families and other historically marginalized groups who have been excluded from opportunity too long.

There is no definitive tally of how many citizen, voting age Texans are currently excluded from the electorate, because they are absent from the rolls, their registration records are outdated or otherwise inaccurate, or they have been dissuaded from voting due to recent voter suppression schemes. The best available evidence indicates that close to 4.4 million eligible voters in Texas cannot cast a ballot that would count, due to their registration status.

The Texas Civil Rights Project seeks to expand and protect civic engagement in Texas by challenging systemic barriers which exclude millions of people from exercising their constitutional right to vote.

For instance, in early 2016, TCRP sued Texas for refusing to register eligible voters who update their information through the Department of Public Safety (DPS) website, a practice that violates the U.S. Constitution and the federal “motor voter” law. Under Section 5 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), eligible voters have a right to register to vote every time they update or renew their driver’s license with the Department of Public Safety (DPS). TCRP and its co-counsel Waters & Kraus, LLP represent several Texas voters who attempted to update their driver’s licenses and voter registration records through DPS’ website but the state disregarded their registration requests. When the Plaintiffs tried to vote, they were not allowed to cast a regular ballot.

A recent report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights described national problems with NVRA compliance at social services agencies, which are also required to offer voter registration under Section 7 of that law. As with the Department of Public Safety, preliminary investigations by TCRP strongly suggest that Health and Human Services (HHS), which administers a variety of social service programs, including SNAP food benefits, and Medicaid and Medicare for persons with disabilities, is not properly registering individuals to vote.

As the Commission concluded, “[l]itigation is an effective tool to enforce state compliance with Section 7,” which is, in turn, “important to improve minority registration and participation,” “vital for citizens with disabilities,” and “important for Limited English Proficient persons.” Similar efforts in significantly smaller states, including Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio, have brought between 335,000 and 490,000 new voters onto the rolls. In Texas, the effect would be much larger, given that more than 3.7 million Texans receive SNAP benefits each month.

In 2017, TCRP seeks to build upon its lawsuit against DPS to develop a legal advocacy plan to force voter registration reform at HHS. We have already identified at least two potential plaintiffs and are working with a major law firm to conduct an initial factual and legal investigation into the case. The requested funds would support staff time and other costs associated with the initial investigatory work including public information act requests, communications and travel.