When the tax office began its voter registration push in January, it was prepared for high registration numbers, given that it is a presidential election year.
But then registration flatlined in Travis County for the first time in decades.
Typically, the tax office expects an increase of up to 2,000 registered voters a month leading up to a presidential election. The office saw a net change of zero in April, Elfant said, and only a few hundred May.
"We were stopped in our tracks by COVID-19," Voter Registrar and Tax-Assessor Collector Bruce Elfant said Wednesday.
Although application numbers increased leading up to the July primary election, only 56,255 people registered to vote in Travis County between January and July, compared to nearly 90,000 over the same period in 2016.
A new program
In response, the Travis County Tax Office launched a revamped version of its discontinued Text2Register program, which it hopes will help encourage more people to register to vote.
Texas is one of 10 states that does not allow online voter registration. Residents may request an application online through the Texas Secretary of State but must fill it in by hand and return it by mail. They may also register to vote in person.
The Text2Register program streamlines the remote process by allowing applicants to use their phones and fill out their form in advance, so the application that arrives only needs a date and signature.
County officials said the program removes a major barrier to voter registration for two reasons: 1) It makes the process easier for the voter and 2) it makes the process easier for the voter registrar.
Text2Register initially allowed applicants to request an application, print it out, fill out the form manually and find an envelope and stamp to return it. The program was discontinued in 2016 after one year because more than 75% of users did not return the form by mail, Elfant said.
The new Text2Register program aims to circumvent this issue by mailing the pre-filled form, along with a return envelope, reducing the number of steps needed.
Since it launched, about 300 people have used it to apply, Elfant told Austonia on Friday.
By texting "Register" to 48683 (IVOTE), Travis County residents are prompted to fill out a voter registration form, which the tax office will then mail to them to sign, date and send back to the tax office for review.
The Text2Register program may also help prevent hard-to-read handwriting or discrepancies that lead to failed applications.
"The beauty of this is when the application is received in our office, we already have the data in our system," said Gretchen Nagy, director of voter registration for the county. "We don't have to enter it manually."
During the program's initial run, among those who completed the registration process, more than 80% turned out to vote, Elfant said.
A wider effort
In addition to the Text2Register program, the tax office also moved its volunteer deputy-registrar training online and has made application forms available at libraries and on bookmobiles.
Another concern this year is post office delays.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Republican donor whom President Donald Trump appointed in May, launched a reorganization of the U.S. Postal Service in July, which union officials say is the cause of delays.
Elfant cautioned that Travis County voters should not wait until the Oct. 5 deadline to mail in their applications, as many invariably do.
"In any year, we do the admonition about mailing [voter registration applications] early," Elfant said. "This year especially … you don't want to be mailing it anywhere near the deadline."
Clarification: This story has been updated to report that the program, which is run through Travis County, can also be used in other counties and states through a partnership with a larger text-based program. Also, the tax office saw a net change of zero registered voters in April.
Pls RT. News-Travis County offering contactless voter registration. Thanks to partnership with @GoRegister2Vote our… https://t.co/r6iHw7QTNj— Travis County Tax (@Travis County Tax) 1597251532.0
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So you want to buy a house?
To anyone trying to get on the "housing ladder," it's been a discouraging couple of years as prices skyrocketed in a market crowded with buyers bidding against each other for just about any available home.
Things may be calming down, with the Austin Board of REALTORS reporting fewer sales and more available homes this summer.
Mortgage rates have more than doubled in the last year, from around 3% to well over 6% on a 30-year fixed rate loan, getting even more of a bump this week after the Federal Reserve raised bank rates on Wednesday.
So how affordable are homes right now? That, of course, depends on what you want and how much you're able or willing to pay, but here are some rough estimates of what a typical buyer would pay to buy a $650,000 home, which would be considered "mid-price" in today's market.
Mortgage banker Chris Holland (NMLS 211033) of Austin's Sente Mortgage ran some numbers for Austonia to illustrate a typical purchase.
Holland says that while the 30-year fixed rate mortgage is often mentioned in the media, the most popular loan that he's seeing now is a 7/1 adjustable rate mortgage, which has a fixed rate for 7 years and then adjusts every year based on market rates, with a limit on how much it can increase each year. The interest is amortized over a 30-year period. Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs) offer lower rates than fixed rate loans.
Here are the numbers, which are examples. In practice, exact numbers vary with a buyer's credit rating and overall financial situation, and with the rate, which can move up or down at any time.
- $650,000 home purchase price
- 7/1 ARM at 5.875%
- 5% down payment, equals $32,500
- 95% financed, equals $617,500
- $4,990 payment, including principle and interest (P&I), insurance, and property tax
- Typically, a borrower's debt to income ratio needs to be at or below 45%. So for this mortgage, a borrower, or borrowers, would need income of roughly $11,100/month, or $133,200/year. That number could be higher, depending on the buyer's outstanding credit balances on things like credit cards and car loans.
Holland says he's had a lot of clients approved for loans who were house hunting but have put that on hold, hoping prices come down.
Camp Fimfo Waco, a brand new camping resort, is kicking off football and fall camping season in style! With top-notch amenities, premium accommodations, and 10 weekends of fall fun, there’s no better place to have a fall camping getaway, especially if you’re a Baylor football fan!
Fall promises to be a one-of-a-kind camping experience. From Sept. 16 to Nov. 24, weekends will be packed with fall-themed activities, including special Halloween weekends in October. Campers can enjoy activities like fall crafts, campground trick-or-treating, costume contests, site decorating, outdoor movie nights, and more!
Packages and Ways to Stay
Camp Fimfo Waco
Located just 5 miles from McLane Stadium, Camp Fimfo Waco is the perfect place to stay during home game weekends. Skip the stuffy hotel room and embrace the great outdoors before cheering on the Baylor Bears! Campers can purchase a Baylor Tailgating Package that includes a pre-game meal from Executive Chef Sean Kelley and transportation to and from the game! Chef Kelley will also be cooking up delicious, elevated tailgating meals near the stadium so make sure to check out The Plaid Plate food truck before the game.
Stay in style and comfort, no matter your camping preference! At Camp Fimfo Waco, there are multiple ways to stay. Red Carpet RV sites come with a concrete pad and patio, full hook-ups, cable hook-up, a charcoal grill, fire ring and fire pit. Back-in or pull-thru options are available, as well as coveted spots tucked along the Bosque River!
Don’t have an RV? Not a problem, Camp Fimfo Waco has cabins too! Book a Riverview Firewheel Cabin if you’re looking for an air-conditioned oasis for the whole family. Complete with a kitchen and private bathroom, this cabin can fit up to 10 people. Elevate your stay by adding on a golf cart or snag a private cabana by the pool for guaranteed shade. With wifi available throughout the park, you can stay connected during your stay!
Amenities and Activities
Camp Fimfo Waco
Camp Fimfo Waco features lots of amenities to fill your days with fun, whether you’re a kid or kid at heart. After challenging your friends to a game of pickleball, basketball, or mini golf, go for a dip in the resort-style, heated pool - open daily through October! Stay on the weekends through October to enjoy the interactive splash playground. With plenty of ways to burn off energy, like the jumping pillow or playground, you can be sure to end the day with a peaceful night around the campfire!
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