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Barriers to Voter Registration THREE BILLS aimed at breaking down barriers to voter registration are waiting for action in the legislature. The most important one would require the state’s two largest agencies, the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Human Services, to provide voter registration assistance as part of their normal job function, according to Lafe Larson, the Texas director of Human SERVE \(Service Employees for Registration is pushing the bills. The bill received a hearing April 15 in the House Elections committee which is chaired by Rep. Ernestine Glossbrenner, DAlice , the bill’s sponsor. But representatives of the state agencies are worried that the additional work required by the bill would be too much of a burden without extra funding to pay for it. The bill would ask state workers to not only distribute voter registration cards, but to provide assistance in filling them out and to route them to the proper authorities. About four and a half million people have contact with the DPS per year and about a million are clients of DHS, according to Larson. The state agencies are pressing for a bill that would provide for the distribution of registration cards but not for the collection of them. Larson says such a bill would be a “first step.” Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, is carrying the voter registration bill in the Senate. Another bill, also carried by Glossbrenner in the House would make it easier for public employees to conduct voter registration by eliminating the requirement that completed cards be delivered in person not mailed to the county courthouse. Currently only high school principals are exempted from the requirement to hand deliver a group’s registration cards, Larson said. A third bill, carried by Rep. Lena Guerrero, D-Austin, would change the way names are dropped from the rolls of registered voters. Currently names that are judged to be “inactive” are purged from the list every August 16. Guerrero’s bill would delay the purge until after elections in November. These two bills are carried by Senator Barrientos as well. Larson says that about 40 percent of those who are eligible to vote in Texas are not registered about four million potential voters. He blames voter registration obstacles for the low levels of voter participation especially among the poor. With some relatively simple measures, he believes the state could register “that large pool of disenfranchised voters.” “The ironies are so great,” he said. “It’s easier to register for the Selective Service than to register to vote.” D.D. din, and their insistence would be welcomed by many able and devoted people within UT and the other colleges and universities. The multiversity is not SPEAKING BEFORE the National Press Club in March, Democratic Party Chairman Paul Kirk un veiled a set of startling new proposals. These were designed, he claimed, to arrest the much heralded decline of voter participation in American elections. This package of “resolves,” as Kirk termed them, is extraordinary, even by the increasingly provocative standards of a party whose leaders and financiers are clearly far more disenchanted with the New Deal than are American voters. In effect, Count Dracula is now proposing emergency measures to deal with the growing crisis of missing persons in Transylvania. Virtually every serious study of why people don’t vote agrees that the biggest single impediment to higher voter turnout is registration laws. Many analysts suggest that turnout would rise if elections were held on Sundays or holidays, if labor unions and other mass organizations were stronger, if abuses of administrative discretion by local officials could be restrained, and if American political parties put forth candidates and policies worth voting for. But not Kirk. His speech did not so much as mention these factors, which have been operative \(if scarcely conin the wake of the election of 1896. Instead, he inveighed against “negative political TV ads” and traced the problem to the fact that candidates sometimes say bad things about one another. “The single most effective ‘get out the vote’ program the Democratic Party and its candidates must undertake in preparing Thomas Ferguson is Associate Professor of government at the University of Texas, Austin, and a contributing editor to The Nation, where an earlier version of this essay appeared on March 28. He is the co-author of Right Turn: The Decline of the Democrats and the Future of American Politics \(New York: Hill a monolith. Higher education is not confined to the multiversity. If the populist voice could penetrate the ears and brains of misguided decision for November 1988,” Kirk said, “is to restore respect for our own political process by delivering a positive message of hope to a national audience.” To enforce this new vision of the politics of happiness, ’88 style, Kirk announced the formation of a “task force of respected Democrats.” The task force would monitor “the tone and tenor makers, the balance just might shift back to education for the sake of freedom, self-governance, even imagine this education for its own sake. El of the debate between the Democratic candidates.” If the messages sent during the campaign fail to meet the prescribed standard of cheerfulness, the new group will “privately advise, admonish, and if necessary publicly bring political pressure to bear upon any candidate, campaign, or constituency group indulging in negative campaigning.” It is possible that years of continued policy failure, accompanied by strident negative campaigning, might eventually help push voting turnout down a few more points. But the issue is exceedingly murky. Not only can anyone who looks at a graph see that stupendous declines in voter turnout long preceded the ads, but voting turnout was far higher Kirk’s Scapegoat Democratic Leader Finds Easy Answer on Voter Apathy By Thomas Ferguson THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11