Democracy works best when everyone eligible participates in the election process. It becomes real representative government when there’s a big turnout and voters going to the ballot box are informed about the issues and the candidates.
Their target: Texas Educators Vote, a nonprofit group supported by school districts statewide, as well as the educators and students the group is urging to vote in the March 6 primary.
What can possibly be wrong with teachers practicing what they preach in civics classes? How can it be improper to register teens to vote and take them on the ultimate field trip by giving them a ride to the polls?
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This schoolyard rumble got started in 2015 when Texas Educators formed to encourage educators to register, research the issues and vote. As a group that is about 700,000 strong, educators could be a formidable political force. Texas Educators Vote doesn’t promote a party or candidate. It only asks that educators keep in mind the state’s 5.4 million public school students when they cast their ballot.
The group also created a “culture of voting” resolution that encourages school districts to take steps to ensure maximum participation by employees and eligible students and to make participation easier by by providing a ride to and from the polls. About 250 districts participate in the Texas Educators Vote, and more than 100 school districts have adopted the resolution, including Denton, Grapevine-Colleyville and Lewisville.
But in January, Paxton gave the program a failing grade, saying it violates the state Constitution and state education code for unlawful electioneering. While it’s OK to register students to vote, that’s about as far as educators should go, his nonbinding ruling stated.
Last week, Paxton followed that up by ordering three districts, including Lewisville, to stop doing what they were doing. In Lewisville, he said the superintendent’s video went too far and created a campaign to ensure the election of certain candidates to the Texas Legislature.
At the same time, Empower Texans has been sending out letters to public school employees, asking them to act as “whistleblowers” when they see a district doing something that is out of line. Empower Texans is led by conservative Midland oilman Tim Dunn. He has backed private school choice and candidates who would limit property tax increases for schools. A post on their website expresses concern that Texas Educators Vote really wants to create a voting bloc through “registration, indoctrination and mobilization.”
Voter turnout in Texas is low. In the 2014 Republican midterm primary, only 10 percent of the registered voters turned out. The Democratic primary scored even lower at 4 percent. Given that kind of turnout, it’s clear that it wouldn’t take much for a single group of voters to influence the outcome of an election.
Texas Educators Vote and their supporters must be careful not to be partisan or recommend candidates. At times their supporters appear to be walking a fine line. But Empower Texans needs to back off from activities that could suppress the vote. Are they worried that democracy just might break out?