Democratic State Lawmakers Want Automatic Voter Registration at Texas DMVs

Nov 22, 2016

Credit Todd Wiseman / Texas Tribune

A handful of state lawmakers want the Texas Department of Public Safety to allow you to register vote when getting a driver’s license or ID card, or when updating information, at the DMV. 

Right now, the so-called "motor voter" system works a little differently, depending on whether you do any of this in-person versus online. However, there have been a couple of bills filed for the upcoming legislative session aimed at changing that.

Three different state Senators have already filed similar bills. Senate Bills 186, 231, and 146 all are aimed at getting the Department of Public Safety to automatically register people to vote.

“I didn’t realize they had filed similar bills,” says Democratic State Senator Carlos Uresti from San Antonio, one of the bills' sponsors. “Generally, we get together and try to co-sponsor bills, but it’s such an important issue. I guess that’s why they filed the bills, as I did.”

Democratic Senators Jose Menendez and Sylvia Garcia also filed one of these bills.

Uresti says he’s heard too many stories where people change their address online and think they are registered – just to find out at the polls that they aren’t.

“We have a very mobile constituency and they think when they update their drivers’ license that they are doing that as well,” he explained. “And it can’t be that complicated for us to make sure that the system that DPS uses is updating that information."

There was a lawsuit filed in Texas several months ago over this very issue. The Texas Civil Rights project is representing voters who say the state is violating the National Voter Registration Act because DPS treats in-person costumers differently than folks online.

Mimi Marziani with the Texas Civil Rights Project told me earlier this year that it’s a widespread problem.

“Thousands of Texans are being silenced every election cycle because of these unlawful policies,” she said.

That lawsuit hasn’t moved forward much in the courts, so folks like Uresti want to fix the problem in statute.

State Sen. Menendez, who is sponsoring SB 231, says this is more than just getting policy right, though. He says he wants to make sure more people are registered and ultimately voting.

“I want people to stop just complaining about what they don’t like but not being engaged,” he said. “I want people to be engaged in change.”

Menendez says during this past election, 4 million Texans who could have been registered to vote this year were not.

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