Travis County, Texas, Entices Millennials to Register to Vote via Text

A new text-based voting registration tool is aimed at getting the digital generation to the polls.

by Bradley Saacks, Austin American-Statesman / August 7, 2015

(TNS) — As politicians chase the elusive millennial vote, Travis County just wants millennials to be registered to vote.

On the 50th anniversary of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, former Texas Sen. Joe Christie and Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant presented a new text-based voting registration tool aimed at getting the digital generation to the polls.

Christie, who represented El Paso in the Texas Legislature in the 1960s and '70s, said his team took two years to develop the texting system that allows Travis County resident to register to vote without having to leave their homes. Christie said he was spurred on to pursue the system by his realization of millennial voter apathy.

He said there are more than 80 million people in the country who qualify as millennials — loosely defined as someone between the ages of 18 and 35 — and about half of them are not registered to vote, reminding him of a neighbor's saying from his youth.

"My neighbor would look at me and say, 'Joe, I'm no engineer, but I know a train wreck when I see one,'" Christie told a crowd that included former President Lyndon B. Johnson's daughter Luci Baines Johnson at the LBJ Presidential Library.

"And folks, we got a train wreck."

The free texting system registers Travis County residents with a process that starts by sending a text saying "register" to 48683. It also informs residents where the closest voting location is and reminds registered voters on Election Day to vote.

The challenge for county officials is to have 90 percent of eligible voters in the county registered before next year's presidential election. Currently Elfant said, 82 percent of eligible Travis County residents are registered.

"It matters that voter turnout is high enough to accurately reflect the will of the people," Elfant said. "Voting is not just a right but a responsibility of citizenship in this great democratic experiment."

To reach the 90 percent goal, Elfant said around 70,000 people would need to register by October 2016, the registration deadline for the presidential election.

"I don't think Daddy could have received a better anniversary present (than the new tool)," said Luci Baines Johnson, who, at age 18, was in the room when her father signed the powerful bill 50 years ago.

The mission to increase voter participation was also pertinent because of Wednesday's federal appeals court's ruling on Texas' voter ID law.

The mixed ruling said the strict requirements of the state law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act that prevents voting discrimination based on race, skin color or ethnicity.

Luci Baines Johnson said the voter ID law was an example of legislation "that would close the doors that we swung open."

Those that immediately benefited from those opened doors in the 1960s were personified Thursday by Susie Piper, a 93-year-old black woman from Austin who served as a de facto historian on voting restrictions before the Voting Rights Act.

Piper brought her original $1.75 receipt for the poll tax she had to pay, remarked on the freedom and said the voting movement is far from finished.

"If you don't vote, you've lost something — a chance to actively participate," Piper said.

©2015 Austin American-Statesman, Texas, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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