Politics

Judge Orders Texas to Allow Online Voter Registration With Drivers License Renewal

A federal judge in Texas ruled Friday that state authorities are violating a federal law by not letting Texans register to vote online when they apply for a drivers license.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia wrote in a 68-page ruling (pdf) that the states restriction was breaking the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), dubbed the “motor voter” law, which orders states to allow residents to register to vote when applying for or renewing their drivers licenses. When Texans use the states online drivers licence system to apply for or renew their driving permit, they cannot simultaneously register to vote but must instead print out a blank voter registration form, which after filling out they can send to their county registrar. The states Department of Safety (DPS) complies with the law when residents go to renew their licenses in person.

“DPS encourages Texans to use its online services to renew their drivers license and change their address because it is easier and more convenient,” Garcia, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton appointee, wrote in his ruling. “It cannot, at the same time, deny simultaneous voter registration applications when those online services are used.”

Garcia ordered the state to make the online voter registration available to the public by Sept. 23, arguing also in his ruling that compliance with the “motor voter” law would provide a range of benefits.

“As Defendants have admitted, there are no technological barriers to compliance and corrective measures would not be costly,” Garcia wrote. “Uncontested expert testimony shows that a compliant DPS system would very likely lead to great efficiency, less human error, a massive saving in costs, and increased voter registration.”

Texas Republicans have, for years, opposed online voter registration largely on the premise that an online process that does not require a physical signature is less secure. In issuing his ruling, Garcia rejected the states claims that reliance on electronic signatures violates Texas election laws.

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