State Watch

Judge orders Texas to allow online voter registration with driver’s license renewal

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A federal judge in Texas ruled Friday that the state was violating federal law by not allowing Texans to register to vote when renewing their driver’s license online.

In a lengthy 68-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia concluded that the state’s restriction was breaking the National Voter Registration Act, which mandates that states must allow residents to register to vote when applying for or renewing their driver’s licenses.

The state’s Department of Safety (DPS) follows the federal law when Texans go in-person to a driver’s license office. But, when residents go through the state’s online portal to register to vote, they are directed to a blank form that must be printed, filled out and then mailed 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, a Clinton appointee, wrote. “It cannot, at the same time, deny simultaneous voter registration applications when those online services are used.”

This isn’t the first time that Garcia has ruled on this issue. In 2018, he ruled that Texas must implement what would’ve been its first online voter registration system. However, his ruling was struck down in late 2019 by a federal appeals court because the plaintiffs who had initially filed a complaint were able to reregister to vote, according to The Texas Tribune.

However, when one of the plaintiffs moved to Houston, he once again ran into the same problem and refiled a suit against the state in January.

Garcia said in his ruling that the state had provided “no factual or legal argument that would justify denying the simultaneous voter registration to which [the plaintiff] 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 ruling is a blow to Texas Republicans, who have staunchly fought against any form of online voter registration for years.

Tags National Voter Registration Act online voter registration Orlando Garcia Texas voting rights

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