Voting is a fundamental right guaranteed to all U.S. citizens, but not everyone chooses to exercise that right.
Especially in Texas. With one of the lowest voter registration rates in the nation, swaths of communities don’t have access to accurate information about voter registration. Plus there are a myriad of other complex barriers that could be preventing them from ultimately getting to the polls.
At a recent Facebook Live event, ACLU of Texas staff interviewed Houston-based small business owner David Buehrer to discuss how businesses can legally help supply their customers and communities with voter registration information. Read part of the conversation below.
IMELDA MEJIA, HOST (ACLU of Texas): My name is Imelda Mejia and I’m part of the communications team for the ACLU of Texas. I’m here at Coral Sword with owner David Buehrer and ACLU of Texas senior staff attorney Edgar Saldivar. And we’re here… most importantly, to discuss voter registration and how local businesses can help get out the vote and get more voters to register.
To help us start the conversation, I’m going to throw a quick fact out there: Texas has one of the lowest voter registration rates in the nation. Edgar, as our in-house, voter rights, legal mind, could you please share why this low registration rate is such a big deal and [how it] affects every Texan?
EDGAR SALDIVAR, SENIOR STAFF ATTORNEY (ACLU of Texas): What that means is that very few voices are actually being heard. The first step to voting and to being a part of our democracy is to register to vote. And the more people that register to vote and actually go to the polls and cast a vote, then the more voices are heard, and in these times we need everyone’s voice to be heard so that we can have a vibrant democracy....
IMELDA: And because of that low voter registration rate, the ACLU of Texas is partnering with some local Houston-based businesses to try and get more people registered to vote and also discuss with them how they can do so. That brings me to David Buehrer. As the owner of Coral Sword and some other local businesses, what sparked your desire to get involved and get more people registered to vote?
DAVID BUEHRER, ENTREPRENEUR (Coral Sword): You know, as a Houstonian, I feel like Houston is a great place to be a part of the political process. And I’ve noticed - I’m in my thirties now - and I think now is the opportunity for the youth of Texas to get registered, get excited and get voting. I think that the cafes and restaurants are a great way to get not only staff...but also our communities that come and we service in our shops, to get them interested in voting. I think now more than ever it’s a great time to get out and registered to vote.
IMELDA: And as a business owner, what were some questions that you had about how to go about [doing] that?
DAVID: I think a lot of times as a business owner you don’t want to step across the line of what you think is right or wrong. And I think that that’s something that is really important to make very clear that it's ok to encourage people to vote and we should all make it as easy as possible to encourage people to vote. So Edgar, if you have any recommendations [for] not only small business owners but people in their communities, that would be great.
EDGAR: To start with, it’s important to know that there are certain rights that everyone has, including businesses, in the effort to get people out to register to vote. [There’s a few things] that businesses can do, whether it’s a coffee shop, whether it’s a restaurant, whether it’s a corporation. You can place voter registration cards on your counter, at your place of business, and make it available for people. You could also provide space for a volunteer deputy registrar - these are trained persons who have been certified to register people to vote - and so providing a space at your business, at your location for these individuals to register people is a perfectly legal thing to do.
Apart from that, there are some basic things that everyone can do because of our free speech rights. Businesses can put up political ads if they want to. That’s up to them to decide. And also, to facilitate the process of registering to vote, businesses can put stamped envelopes and make them available for people to submit their voter registration cards. Apart from that, they can post reminders and information on deadlines about the voter registration process; when they’re due, when the deadline is. All of that is available and perfectly legal for businesses [and] corporations to do, and for individuals to participate.
IMELDA: Edgar, what can’t businesses do?
EDGAR: There are some don’ts, some no-nos for businesses that you should be aware of to avoid having problems with the state or other officials. First of all, it is not allowed to provide customers anything of value in exchange for actually voting or in exchange for registering to vote.... You just can’t give anything of value, whether it’s a cup of coffee, whether it’s a donut, or anything that would be in violation of election laws….
The other thing is, you can’t allow your employees to actually submit or mail in registration forms unless they are a volunteer voter registrar. And so unless they are [a volunteer voter registrar] and authorized to do so by the state, then you would not be allowed as an employee of your business to do that for people registering.
And finally, businesses - and this is very well known - but the reason why people can take a few minutes out of the day, during the business day, to go vote is because you cannot penalize an employee for either registering to vote or for going out to cast a ballot and to vote. So remember businesses, you can’t penalize, you can’t obstruct, you can’t do anything to prevent people from expressing this very fundamental right to vote.
Visit our Facebook page to watch more from our monthly Facebook Live segments. The last day to register to vote for the November 6, 2018 election is October 9th.