Good morning. My name is Maggie Stern and I am the Youth Civic Education and Engagement Coordinator at the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas. I am here today testifying on behalf of myself and Children’s Defense Fund Texas in opposition to HB 3.
Children’s Defense Fund is a nonprofit child advocacy organization with the mission to ensure every child a Healthy, Fair, Safe, and Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood. A vital part of this mission means ensuring that families and young people have the ability to make decisions for their communities to elect people and support policies that represent them and their needs. We oppose this anti-democratic piece of legislation that seeks to strip that power from Texans.
Of the many dangerous and anti-voter provisions in HB 3, I want to speak today about two in particular that will harm the young people we work with: the emboldening of partisan poll watchers at the expense of voters and the criminalization of election workers.
Imagine an 18 year old voting for the first time. I have registered many of these first-time voters. They are often excited about finally being old enough to vote, curious about what the voting process is like, and also sometimes intimidated. It can be intimidating to vote for the first time, especially in a state where many young Texans do not even have the opportunity to register to vote in the classroom – as mandated by state law – let alone an adequate civics education on how to research a ballot, find their polling place, or operate a voting machine. For a first-time voter, their first experience at the polling place can determine whether they will become lifelong voters – or one of the millions of eligible Texans who never cast their ballots.
We all want the next generation to grow up caring about their communities and exercising their freedom to vote. But imagine an 18 year old showing up to a polling place where partisan poll watchers have free rein to intimidate and question voters. Imagine an 18 year old – already nervous about voting for the first time – being trailed by an adult through the polling place, questioned based on the poll watcher’s own untrained judgment that they look suspicious. The election judge, under HB 3, would have far less ability to prevent voter harassment unless they have already observed a violation.
And an election worker who tries to protect this young voter runs the risk of criminal penalties or frivolous lawsuits under HB 3. Election workers could also be held criminally liable for voters’ actions [and minor mistakes. This criminalization of election workers is yet another way to intimidate young people away from the voting process. We saw this year during the pandemic young people step up to protect their older neighbors by serving as poll workers for the first time. We should applaud young people who take up this civic responsibility and encourage more of their peers – not criminalize and intimidate them into staying home.
These deliberate barriers to voting harm communities, families, and children. Instead of HB 3, this body should be spending its time investing in online voter registration, high school voter registration, and comprehensive civic education to meet today’s young Texans with the education & resources that they need to make decisions in their communities and build a state that works for us all. I urge you to oppose HB 3.