By Vanessa Rogala
With thirty-eight electoral votes at stake, the idea of the Lone Star State possibly being in play for the 2016 Presidential Election is an intriguing one. Given the Texas gubernatorial election is coming up in November, some have wondered whether this current push towards Democratic leadership will actually make any significant changes to the political makeup of the state. One of the organizations attempting to paint the face of Texas politics blue is Battleground Texas. With over sixteen thousand active volunteers, Battleground Texas has gotten the attention of voters and the Texas GOP. In order to reach their lofty goal, the organization focuses on increasing voter registration and motivating already-registered Texans to continue or begin participating in the democratic process. Since Texas has bled red for a long time now, Battleground Texas’ goal is an uphill journey with numerous bumps on the road, to say the least. The Democratic organization, however, never expected one of those bumps to include a run-in with Texas election laws.
This is not Battleground Texas’ first rodeo with accusations of violating Texas voter registration laws. Controversial conservative activist James O’Keefe made allegations against the organization’s activities in 2013, specifically claiming that the group violated Texas Election Code Section 13.004 when they allegedly copied phone numbers from voter registration applications. The two special prosecutors rejected the public complaints alleging the illegal activity. Soon after, a state district court judge threw out the complaint filed against the organization.
Today, Battleground Texas finds itself facing accusations of violating Texas’ laws regarding volunteer deputy registrars.To encourage voter registration, Texas Election Code Section 13.031 allows the voter registrar to appoint volunteers as deputy registrars. In order to be eligible for appointment, volunteers must be 18 years of age or older. Once appointed, volunteer deputy registrars’ terms expire on December 31st of even-numbered years. Volunteer deputy registrars are granted the authority to distribute voter registration application forms and receive such applications in person. The volunteer deputy registrar is then expected to review the application for completeness in the applicant’s presence. If the application is incomplete, the volunteer returns the application for completion and resubmission. With the exception provided in a separate subsection of the statute, volunteer deputy registrars should return the completed applications to the registrar no later than 5 p.m. of the fifth day after the date the application is submitted to the volunteer deputy registrar. If a volunteer deputy registrar fails to comply with the above requirement of submitting the completed application form, then they have committed a Class C misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine not to exceed $500.00. If the volunteer deputy’s failure to comply is intentional, then they have committed a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine not to exceed $4,000.00 and/or confinement in jail for a term not to exceed one year. Further, if a person who is not an appointed volunteer deputy registrar but is acting as one (i.e. accepting completed voter registration applications and submitting them to the registrar), then he or she also will have committed a Class C misdemeanor.
Once again, Conservative activist James O’Keefe has made accusations against Battleground Texas claiming the organization violated Texas election laws. O’Keefe’s organization, Project Veritas, sent an undercover “volunteer” to investigate Battleground Texas’ voter registration practices. As a result of this undercover activity, O’Keefe now claims that the Democratic organization allowed a non-deputized volunteer (the undercover “volunteer”) to collect and submit completed registration application forms. Further, O’Keefe also claims that the Battleground leadership failed to penalize the same “volunteer” after she admitted to destroying completed registration applications. If this is true, then Battleground Texas may find itself in violation of Sections 13.042 and 13.044 of Texas election law statutes, which could result in misdemeanor charges and possible further investigation by Texas authorities into other Battleground activities.
Given that Battleground Texas has successfully fought back against unfounded allegations in the past and that the current allegations are still very current, it is unclear what will come of these new claims. But, regardless of the outcome of this or any other obstacle that may arise, Battleground Texas plans to continue emphasizing voter registration in their push for blue. And, as long as they stay within the bounds of Texas voter registration statutes, then maybe one day blue bonnets will not be the only large patches of blue across the Lone Star state. Time will tell.