Capital Highlights: Registration form shortage as deadline nears

By Gary Borders

Less than a week remains before the Jan. 31 deadline to register to vote in the March 1 primary. While Secretary of State John Scott publicly assured Texas voters that “every single eligible Texas voter will be able to register to vote if they have not done so already,” the League of Women Voters on Friday threatened to sue his office if the nonpartisan group isn’t provided with additional voter registration forms. 

The Austin American-Statesman reported the league contends the state has decided to “sharply limit” the number of voter registration forms distributed to the league and other groups, claiming that is a violation of the National Voter Registration Act. 

“It is crucial that the Secretary of State’s office act swiftly to provide the necessary voter registration forms for the people of Texas. The deadline to register to vote for the upcoming primary election is quickly approaching, and Texas is one of 11 states without online voter registration,” said Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas. 

Sam Taylor, assistant secretary of state for communications, told KUT.org that supply chain issues have made it harder and more expensive to get paper, which means the Secretary of State’s office will be giving out fewer voter registration forms to groups ahead of elections this year.

“We are limited in what we can supply this year because of the paper shortage and the cost constraints due to the price of paper and the supply of paper,” he said.

Texas is one of the few states that does not have online voter registration.

Leander man charged for threatening election officials

A Leander man is the first person to be charged by federal officials in a case brought by a task force formed to combat threats against election officials. Numerous media outlets reported that Chad Christopher Stark posted a message last January on Craigslist, saying it was time to kill a Georgia elections official.

“Georgia Patriots it’s time for us to take back our state from these Lawless treasonous traitors. It’s time to invoke our Second Amendment right it’s time to put a bullet in the treasonous Chinese [Official A]. Then we work our way down to [Official B] the local and federal corrupt judges,” Stark wrote, according to the indictment.

The three officials allegedly threatened were not named.

The Texas Tribune reported Georgia officials were especially targeted by a flood of hostile messages after they refused to back then-President Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud. Election officials across the country have faced criticism and personal attacks by Trump supporters claiming the election was stolen. No widespread instances of election fraud have come to light despite dozens of investigations. 

State again reaches record job level

The Texas Workforce Commission reported last week that the seasonally adjusted state unemployment rate dropped to 5.0% in December, down 0.2 percentage points from the previous month. The state added 50,000 nonagricultural jobs last month — marking job gains in 19 of the last 20 months. The state set another record level of employment with more than 13 million jobs.

“Seeing a second consecutive month of record-setting employment, with more than 13 million jobs, highlights the underlying strength of the Texas economy,” said TWC Chairman Bryan Daniel. “This economic strength creates an environment for Texas employers to continue to create jobs and provide opportunities for the workforce in the Lone Star State.”

The state has added 694,000 jobs since December 2020.

COVID-19 cases set record high

Spurred by the omicron variant, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas in the past week climbed to a record 433,584, with 971 new deaths reported as well by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the state has recorded 5.9 million cases and 78,055 deaths — equivalent to the entire population of Cedar Park.

Hospitalizations in Texas of lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients also continued to rise, up 36% from the previous week at 13,324, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. That figure is approaching the record high of 14,106 set in January 2021.

Paxton denies open records law violation

Attorney General Ken Paxton denied that he violated the state’s open records law, rejecting an allegation by the Travis County district attorney that his office should release communications from the week of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Five of the state’s largest newspapers filed a joint complaint after Paxton denied their open records requests. The district attorney’s office warned it would file suit if Paxton did not release the information. In a letter to the Travis County district attorney’s public integrity unit, Paxton’s office called the claims “meritless” and said there was “no violation to cure.”

Editors for the newspapers released a joint statement saying: “We believe these records are public and should be released. We hope the Travis County district attorney continues to hold the attorney general accountable for following our state’s open records laws and continues to advocate for the public’s right to know in this case.”

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.

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