How Can Schools Promote Voting? State Lawmaker requests AG’s Opinion

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An effort by a group of education organizations to encourage more voting is being called into question by a state lawmaker.

Texas Educators Vote, a website with materials promoting voting and civic engagement, was formed by various educator groups. One of the resources provided by Texas Educators Vote is a “Culture of Voting Resolution” that school districts can adopt word-for-word.

Districts can also craft their own versions. The website also provides a form for an “Educators Oath to VOTE,” where school employees can pledge to vote in the March primary and in the November general election. There’s also a checkbox they can mark to “vote in support of the more than 5.4 million Texas school children.”

“Texas educators are charged with teaching civic responsibility, with practicing civic responsibility,” Barry Haenisch, executive director of Texas Association of Community Schools, said. “So we thought it was important if we’re going to be charged with teaching those things, that we also be responsible for being active civically.”

Texas Educators Vote has a website and pamphlet to encourage voting. (KXAN Photo/Steffi Lee)
Texas Educators Vote has a website and pamphlet to encourage voting. (KXAN Photo/Steffi Lee)

The resolution outlines several ways a district could push voter participation, such as participating in voter pledge programs, implementing no-cost incentives to promote voter participation like allowing employees with an “I Voted” sticker to wear jeans and when possible, providing district transportation to and from polling places.

Texas State Senator Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, has filed a request for opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton over whether this violates the state constitution.

“Such transportation also doesn’t benefit the taxpayers,” Bettencourt wrote. “Rather, it benefits the political agenda of one or more private organizations, especially since the transportation is only provided to those likely to support and vote in favor of those organizations’ political agenda.”

Haenisch says districts exploring the possibility of adopting this type of resolution are reminded to consult with their attorney and insurance carrier before deciding to use buses for non-school uses. He also says the purpose of Texas Educators Vote is to purely remain informative.

“That’s not saying vote for this issue or against this issue,” he said. “It’s not saying vote for this person or against this person.”

Bettencourt also raises concerns about “the legal implications of coercing government employees to ascribe an oath to a particular viewpoint, as well as compelling the speech of government employees regarding the display of ‘I Voted’ stickers” in his request to Paxton.

Haenisch says the various ideas on promoting voting are to encourage more voter turnout and not to push a political agenda.

“We’re trying to create a habit of voting,” he said.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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