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Report: No Texas public libraries were compliant with federal, state voter registration laws in 2020

Two people put up a voter registration sign.
LM Otero
/
Associated Press
A new report projects that public libraries will now collect and submit over 300,000 new and updated voter registrations in each four-year election cycle.

A nearly two-year long analysis — and outreach efforts — from the Texas Civil Rights Project shows most public library systems in the state now comply with the laws to register Texans to vote.

A new report shows 60% of the state’s more than 500 public libraries are now compliant with a federal and state law requiring they provide access to voter registration.

“At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, many voting rights advocates became worried that as libraries closed, people would not be able to register in person at their public library as the law guarantees them the right to do,” said Ryan Cox, Senior Attorney for the Voting Rights Program at the Texas Civil Rights Project, which conducted the analysis from Spring of 2020 through the end of 2021.

“We started looking into that problem and realized that not a single library in this entire state was fully compliant with their obligations,” added Cox, who also co-authored the new 35-page report.

Cox credited his group’s outreach and education efforts for bringing most of the state’s public libraries in line with the National Voter Registration Act and the Texas Election Code.

“At this time, we believe that 299 individual libraries are compliant with the laws,” said Cox. “Another 70 or so, or about 15 percent, are working towards compliance, have indicated to us that they are taking steps towards getting a plan on file and implementing procedures.”

As TCRP worked with libraries across Texas, Cox said they realized some needed more help than others. He said his group worked with smaller library systems as well as larger ones in Harris and Dallas counties. With the Dallas Public Library system, for example, Cox noted plans and training procedures were in place, but they just needed to be approved by the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

“Now, other libraries who had never heard of these rules before needed to be counseled on what the specific rules required — When they had to do it, when they had to train employees and how, what materials they needed to use…and various other things like that,” Cox added.

According to the report, TCRP projects that public libraries will now collect and submit over 300,000 new and updated voter registrations in each four-year election cycle.

Still, Cox said there’s more work to do. As of last month, TCRP estimated at least 100 of the state’s public libraries remain out of compliance – adding that “a majority of which are in Texas’ Latino communities.”

Monday was the last day Texans could register to vote in the March 1 primary election. According to the Secretary of State’s office, more than 17 million Texans are already registered to vote.

Voter registration status can be checked at votetexas.gov.