U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio found, for a second time, that Texas continues to violate the federal National Voter Registration Act. The legislation mandates states provide their citizens the opportunity to complete voter registration online when renewing their drivers’ licenses or filing a change-of-address.
Currently, Texas Department of Public Safety allows for the online driver’s license renewals and change of address forms, but merely provides a fillable form for voter registration, which voters must print and mail in themselves. Garcia ruled “that DPS is “legally obligated” to allow voters to simultaneously register to vote with every license renewal or change-of-address application, and ordered the state to set up a “fully operable” online system by Sept. 23.”
DPS encourages Texans to use its online services to renew their driver’s license and change their address because it is easier and more convenient. It cannot, at the same time, deny simultaneous voter registration applications when those online services are used.U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia
This decision is just the latest in a series of court rulings against the state of Texas regarding obstacles to voting equity. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a filing by state Democrats to expand voting by mail to all Texas voters during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, federal court invalidated two of Texas’s congressional districts, concluding that they violated the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting power of minorities. (The U.S. Supreme Court later overturned this decision.)
More worrisome to Texans should be the audacity of the Republican led state to continually offer up policies that restrict voter participation instead of expand it. Texas has seen Democrat efforts to protect the right to vote thwarted session after session. Data suggests Texas is moving towards blue and it has been declared a battleground state in the national spotlight. Recent polling shows Biden leading Trump, with his lead coming from his strength among female and minority voters. Rather than duke it out at the polls in November, it looks like it is that Republicans see the writing on the wall and they are out to obstruct voting by any means possible.
For second time, federal judge finds Texas is violating voter registration law
“For second time, federal judge finds Texas is violating voter registration law” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
A persistent Texas voter, twice thwarted when he tried registering to vote while renewing his driver’s license online, has for the second time convinced a federal judge that the state is violating federal law.
In a 68-page ruling Friday, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio found that Texas continues to violate the federal National Voter Registration Act by not allowing residents to register to vote when they update their driver’s license information online.
Garcia found that DPS is “legally obligated” to allow voters to simultaneously register to vote with every license renewal or change-of-address application, and ordered the state to set up a “fully operable” online system by Sept. 23. The Texas attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the state is likely to appeal the ruling.
It’s the second time Garcia has sided with the voter, former English professor Jarrod Stringer. Garcia’s first ruling was overturned on appeal on a technicality.
The National Voter Registration Act requires states to let residents complete their voter registration applications when they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses. But Texas officials have staunchly opposed any form of online registration.
The Texas Department of Public Safety follows federal law when residents visit a driver’s license office in person. But Texans who try to register while using the state’s online portal are instead directed to a blank registration form they must fill out, print and send to their county registrar.
“DPS encourages Texans to use its online services to renew their driver’s license and change their address because it is easier and more convenient,” Garcia wrote. “It cannot, at the same time, deny simultaneous voter registration applications when those online services are used.”
Garcia has said this before. In 2018, he ordered the state to implement what would be its first system for online voter registration. A federal appeals court overturned that order in late 2019 because Stringer and his two co-plaintiffs had ultimately reregistered to vote, and the court decided the case was moot because they were no longer being harmed.
Although the appellate court tossed the case, Judge James Ho of the 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals wrote in the decision that Stringer’s lost vote was a right he “will never be able to recover.”
“As citizens, we can hope it is a deprivation they will not experience again,” Ho said.
But just 10 days after the admonishment, Stringer again was unable to update his voter registration along with his driver’s license after a move to Houston. Stringer and other frustrated Texans opened the latest chapter of the online voter registration fight by filing a second lawsuit in January.
On Friday, Garcia found that Texas had “offered no factual or legal argument that would justify denying the simultaneous voter registration to which Mr. Stringer is legally entitled.”
“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.
The issue has become an albatross for Texas Republican officials trying to fend off any form of online voter registration.
At least 1.5 million Texans use the state’s online driver’s license portal a year, according to Stringer’s lawyers, though it’s unclear how many also attempt to reregister to vote. The coronavirus pandemic, which forced Texans to seek out many DPS services online instead of in person, “further underscores that the state has no plausible rationale that I could even imagine to appeal the case,” said Mimi Marziani, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, which is representing Stringer.
“The court has been incredibly clear now over several years that the state is violating federal law,” Marziani said. “And they have no justification for doing so.”
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/28/texas-voter-registration-laws/.
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