Federal Judge Orders Texas To Comply With Voter Registration Laws

Apr 3, 2018

A federal judge has ordered Texas officials to comply with the National Voter Registration Act and motor voter laws.

The order could affect an estimated 1.5 million Texans.

The Texas Civil Rights Project sued the state two years ago, claiming the Department of Public Safety treats people who update their driver’s license information online differently than people who update it in person.

Texas will register you to vote or change your voter information if you go to a DPS office in person, the group's president, Mimi Marziani, said at the time, but it claims "something about going online is different.”

While online voter registration is illegal in Texas, federal laws – including the 14th Amendment – require that all voters be treated the same.

That means Texas officials can’t treat people using state services online differently than people using them in person, Marziani said. But Texas officials have – for years. And because of motor voter laws, which are supposed to automatically register people to vote, there’s been confusion.

“Everybody – all of our plaintiffs and many other people we have spoken to – once they get their driver’s license, they assume that their voter registration information has been updated, too,” Marziani said. “And then they show up at the polls thinking they are going to be able to cast a ballot and they are not able to."

On Friday, Judge Orlando Garcia of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled those people will soon be able to vote.

Beth Stevens, the voting rights program director with TCRP, said things should move quickly from here.

“There’s no need for a trial,” she said. “He said that the plaintiffs win. We're waiting on hearing how quickly the state will have to implement changes.”

In his order, the judge said he will also explain his ruling later. In the meantime, Stevens said, the ruling could affect a lot of people in Texas.

“People who renew their license online or change their address online – so it’s 1.5 million people a year do that online with DPS,” she said. “And it would potentially affect every single one of them that wanted to register to vote or update their voter registration.”

The Texas Secretary of State's office declined to comment on the order.

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