A federal judge has given state officials one week to create a plan to allow Texans to automatically register to vote when they go online to obtain or renew a driver’s license.
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia last month issued a one-page ruling warning state officials that Texas’ online practices violate the “motor voter” provisions of the National Voter Registration Act, enacted in 1993 to increase voter participation by simplifying the registration process.
On Friday, Garcia released a 61-page opinion explaining his conclusions and why, without the need for a trial, he sided with a civil rights group that sued Texas on the issue.
Lawyers with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office are reviewing the order “and weighing our options,” agency spokeswoman Kayleigh Lovvorn said Friday.
According to the Texas Civil Rights Project, Paxton’s office has signaled its intention to appeal the order. If filed, an appeal could delay Garcia’s May 17 deadline to present a plan to fix the online registration system.
Federal law requires the Texas Department of Public Safety to give Texans the chance to register to vote — or to update voting records to reflect a change of address — when they renew, update or obtain a driver’s license, the San Antonio judge wrote.
That practice is followed for drivers who conduct business at a DPS office. However, visitors to the DPS website are directed to a separate page run by the Texas secretary of state, where they must download a voter registration form, print it out and mail it to their county registrar — a practice that falls far short of the law’s requirements, Garcia wrote.
“Asking motor voters whether they are interested in voter registration and sending them to SOS for an entirely separate application process is not enough. The NVRA demands much more from voter registration agencies,” he wrote.
“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,” Garcia added.
Almost 1.5 million Texans renew their driver’s licenses online annually, court records show.
Garcia also said the state will have to pay an as-yet undetermined amount of court costs and legal fees for the Texas Civil Rights Project, which sued state officials on behalf of four Texans who said the DPS online policies denied them the opportunity to cast a ballot.
“For years, the state of Texas ignored and violated federal laws designed to bring more people onto the voter registration rolls and strengthen our democracy. Sadly, thousands and thousands of people have been disenfranchised because of the state’s actions.” said Mimi Marziani, president of the civil rights group.
“We call on state leaders to stop wasting time and taxpayers’ resources fighting this case and instead work with us to ensure that every single eligible Texan can be a part of our democracy,” Marziani said.