Judge Orders More Data on Potential Voter Registration Fixes in Texas

February 13, 2020by Chuck Lindell, Austin American-Statesman (TNS)
Fog enshrouds Texas Capitol dome on Jan. 8, 2019, opening day of the 86th Texas Legislature. (Ken Herman/Austin American-Statesman/TNS)

AUSTIN, Texas — Saying he wants a firm grasp of how long it will take Texas to comply with federal voter registration mandates, a U.S. judge on Monday ordered opposing sides to meet with technology specialists by the end of the week.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia said state officials had previously estimated that it would take 90 days to let Texans register to vote at the same time they go online to renew a driver’s license.

The judge has ruled that simultaneous registration is required by the “motor voter” provision of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act.

At a recent hearing, however, a lawyer for Texas said it could take a year or longer to meet an “interim step” requested by civil rights lawyers — requiring Texas to mail a preprinted voter registration form that includes the name, address and other driver’s license data so voters could sign and mail it in.

Such a step would comply with a state law requiring a valid signature on every voter form while a longer-term solution is found that would allow for simultaneous registration, lawyers with the Texas Civil Rights Project said.

Garcia ordered lawyers for both sides to file sworn declarations by the end of Monday on the feasibility of proposed fixes and how long they would take to accomplish.

“It is difficult to believe that full compliance with the NYRA could be accomplished in 90 days, yet this interim measure would take months, a year, or more,” Garcia wrote.

The judge also ordered state officials to begin tracking how many people click a voter registration link while renewing their driver’s license on the Department of Public Safety website.

“Defendants’ decision not to track, record, or preserve such information at this juncture, after four years of litigation, is concerning,” he wrote.

In Texas, those who renew a driver’s license online must click a separate link to download a voter registration form to print out, fill in and mail to county voting officials.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of three Texans argues that the motor voter law requires the state to let voters update their registration address — or register to vote for the first time — while they renew a driver’s license online.

Last week, Garcia gave state officials until Monday — the deadline to register to vote for the March 3 primaries — to ensure that the three plaintiffs are registered to vote using information they supplied to DPS.

On Monday, state officials informed Garcia that they had complied with that order.

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