Voter registration sparks partisan fight

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The battle for the Texas ballot box is considered to be up for grabs in the upcoming election cycle.  

With the stakes so high, political analysts like Brian Smith are not surprised to see some political dust ups.

"This is also a great time for political outrage because there is not a lot else going on, you don't have the politics of the legislature to be mad at, you don't have the actual election to be mad at, we don't have Texas football to be angry at," said Smith.

On Tuesday morning, state Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie), the head of the Democratic Party House Legislative Caucus, launched the latest attack. On his Twitter account, Turner expressed outrage that a new GOP super PAC, Engage Texas, was doing voter registration outside of driver's license offices in the state's top three metro areas. 

Turner also sent a letter asking officials at DPS to explain why Engage Texas was allowed to be there. 

In response, officials at DPS stated in part that "the areas are public spaces," and can be used for activities like political speech, as long as it doesn't interfere with department operations. The agency went on to state that it doesn't grant or deny permission for individuals to exercise their constitutional rights, which is why members of Turner's own party were at the driver's license center in Pflugerville Tuesday morning.

"This week is my week, to make sure we are registering as many people as we can," said Susan Gezana, precinct chair of the Wells Branch Democrats.

Gezana said she was being non-partisan. She set up shop in front of the Pflugerville driver's license office after coming across the Engage Texas group last week.

"We want to have equal representation because I noticed they were not, they were being very partisan," said Gezana.

A point of contention for the Democrats is a petition Engage Texas has with them. They're soliciting signatures for an anti-abortion measure and along with registering voters, but according to a statement from the Secretary of State's office "there is nothing in the Texas election code that would prohibit this activity" and "voter registration drives can be done by anyone."

"That goes back to the First Amendment," Smith said. "You are registering voters, you are also getting people to sign a petition, and they can choose to sign a petition or not."

The situation now, Smith agrees, is similar to a few years ago when former state Sen. Wendy Davis ran for governor. Party operatives mobilized and launched the "Turn Texas Blue" campaign.

"You know what, Parties learn from each other, and the Republicans look and say if the Democrats are registering voters then we are going to register voters the same exact way," said Smith.

A spokesperson for Engage Texas said their workers are trained to register anyone regardless of party affiliation, but also said those who are approached may first be asked about the petition before they are asked if they are registered to vote. For the Democrats, that's a problem. 

The DPS office of media and communications issued this statement on the groups signing people up outside of their offices: 

The complete statement from the Secretary of State's director of communication Stephen Chang is as follows:

Engage Texas spokesperson Lucy Nashed issued this statement about the PAC's efforts: 

Texas House Democratic Caucus executive director Phillip Martin issued the following statement in response to comments by Nashed to a Houston newspaper regarding low voter turnout: