Pictured (from left): Marie Pousson and Carolyn Jones, TMO leaders from Hope Episcopal at EHF’s Community Health Leader Convening in Houston
In 2018, Texas saw one of the largest increases in voter registration and voter turnout. Since the 2014 midterm election, the number of registered voters in Texas increased by 1.6 million for a total of 15.7 million voters in 2018. Moreover, voter turnout also increased 18% between 2014 and 2018. These successes were a result of both a competitive election cycle and an increased effort to encourage individuals and communities to become civically engaged.
Although Texas saw significant increases in voter registration and turnout, the state still fell behind the national average for turnout, which was 50% compared to the 46% of eligible adults who voted in Texas. There are still approximately 2.4 million eligible, unregistered voters in Texas. And so the adage still applies – Texas is not a red state or a blue state, it’s a not-voting state.
Why do we care?
EHF’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan has a goal to “support organizations to raise the voices of community members to influence community health.” What better way to activate a community’s voice, engage community, and advocate for the issues that matter most than by voter engagement!
One of the first steps an individual or congregation can take to increase voter engagement is through volunteer deputy voter registrar training. From there, the possibilities for voter registration, education, and engagement events are endless.
Volunteer Deputy Voter Registrar (DVR) Training
Anyone who wants to register others to vote must be formally trained as a volunteer deputy registrar through the county elections or tax office. In the state of Texas, voter deputy registrars have the sole responsibility of increasing voter registration in the state.
Who’s eligible to become a deputy registrar?
To be eligible for the training, the volunteer must meet eligibility requirements for registering to vote, although the person does not need to be a registered voter.
The basic qualifications to become a deputy registrar include the following:
- Must be a US citizen
- Must be at least 18 years of age
- Must be a resident of Texas
- Must not have been convicted of a felony, or if convicted must have had their sentence fully-discharged or must have been pardoned
During the training, attendees are guided through the rules and regulations of the registration process. After the training, attendees take a test and participate in role-playing exercises imitating possible situations at a voting booth or when registering voters.
Depending on the county, trainings can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. Once deputized, appointments as a deputy voter registrar automatically end on December 31st of an even-numbered year.
Q&A with a Deputy Voter Registrar
Marie Pousson and Moira LaFond, members of Hope Episcopal Church in Houston, have been working with The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) to identify the needs in their communities and work within and through the community to find solutions. Through this relationship, Pousson learned about Deputy Registrar training and has been active since, ensuring the voices in her community are heard.
EHF sat down with Pousson to ask a few questions about what inspired her to begin her work in voter engagement:
Tell me a little about your history with the community organizing engagement, and the Episcopal Church
Well, I’m newly welcomed into the Episcopal church. I have attended Hope Episcopal Church in Houston for a couple years and just officially joined in August. I found Hope while looking for other congregations and I like the welcoming, “get to know you” feel. I was also interested in attending a place where everyone doesn’t look like me.
I first became involved with organizing through EHF funding The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) membership dues for Hope, which is currently developing a core team. Over the year we were funded, I became the person that most often went to the events and I became a leader in our congregation. As I started doing more work, I began to see myself as an organizer.
When did you first start working as a Deputy Voter Registrar?
I attended a Deputy Voter Registrar training in early 2017, but I was not sure where I could go to register people. Once I got involved with TMO, I was able to connect with various organizations doing civic engagement work.
At St. Leo’s Catholic Church, TMO did a voter registration drive before the midterms at all the masses one Sunday. One of their congregants was a Deputy Voter Registrar and I was able to sit with her.
Once Moira and I had begun registering voters, the Lutheran Church across the street caught word that there were voter deputy registrars at the Episcopal church and they invited us over to register parishioners on a few Sundays. From there, we deepened our relationship with that church.
What’s the process like?
It’s a really easy process. The Harris County folks really know their information and it is easy to follow. The training lasts about an hour and they equip you with everything you need. The instructions are cut and dry and provide you with instructions and guidance for what to do following the training. The main focus is who can vote, who can be a registrar, and following Texas law.
What has been the most fulfilling thing as a DVR?
I’ve registered people at a naturalization ceremony. It was great to have 60 or so people registered who just became citizens. It’s also good to make sure that as many people as possible know they can vote and reasons why they should vote. Knowing they have a right to have their voice heard. Your vote is your voice as heard through TMO.
What else has the work taught you about the impact the congregation can have in the community?
If each congregation had their own person trained, then there could be a once-a-month event and congregations could make sure they are empowering their members to do their civic duty.
A congregation could host a TMO accountability session and the candidates could come to speak to the congregations about the issues that affect the community. If more congregations had voter registrars, it would be a way to engage with the people who are running for office and accountability after election for issues of concern—it would be empowering. We hold the power ourselves. We think we don’t, but we do and it’s in our vote.
It’s a first a step. Then you have to get them to the polls and educate them about the issues. Congregations can partner with any non-partisan community groups in their county such as National Organization of Women, Indivisibles Houston, Texas Organizing Project (TOP).
What advice would you give to congregations hoping to move the needle on voter registration and engagement?
The Rev. Bobbie Knowles always says, “the church has to leave the building.” You’ve gotta go door to door or to an event. You’ve got to go where the people are, you’ve got to get out beyond the walls.
One thing that resonated with many participants at EHF’s Community Health Leader convening seemed to be the importance of educating the citizens, and then getting them out to vote, and possibly making a difference on the issue of healthcare.
Right now, I’m busy with preparing to speak to decision makers on education funding increases in the current legislative session, but Carolyn Jones is interested in healthcare. We just need to do a lot of work in house meetings at Hope to determine what pressures folks are feeling in our congregation. Lots of work to be done this year, now that I feel more prepared.
I really appreciate EHF sponsoring our church’s TMO dues for a year, and TMO’s efforts in communities in my home town.