Democracy Gets Big Win In Texas Federal Voting Rights Lawsuit

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A years-long case against Texas authorities over their failure to abide by certain provisions of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) has now been settled. As explained by the voting rights advocacy organization Democracy Docket, this “settlement outlines the state’s plans to permanently offer simultaneous voter registration when an eligible voter renews or updates his or her driver’s licenses or ID cards online — an option not offered before this litigation.” The NVRA requires that states provide opportunities to register to vote or update voter registrations whenever “an eligible voter obtains, renews or updates” their drivers license, as Democracy Docket shares.

Before the now settled litigation, Texans making changes to their drivers licenses online were asked by the system if they wanted to register to vote — but checking the box for “yes” accompanying that question didn’t actually register individuals to vote. The Texas Tribune explains that Texans using that system and hoping to get registered to vote “were directed to a blank registration form they had to fill out, print and send to their county registrar,” but missing the accompanying form was certainly possible, and such an instance drove this litigation. A Texas resident named Jarrod Stringer — one of the plaintiffs on the case — updated his drivers license information in 2014 and checked the box for wanting to register to vote, but when he later showed up at a polling place, he was turned away.

Prior to this formal settlement, a federal judge had already ordered Texas authorities to begin allowing residents making changes to their drivers licenses online to also make changes to their voter registrations, and since that point, over one million Texas residents have used the system to get their voter registrations in order, Democracy Docket notes. Almost all other states already offer the opportunity to all residents to register to vote online, but in Texas, authorities opted for awhile to leave that opportunity completely unavailable to state residents.

Notably, there’s another case against Texas authorities related to online voter registration in the state that remains ongoing. Months after the state put court-ordered online voter registration in place for residents updating their drivers license information online, state authorities enacted a new piece of legislation requiring “individuals who submit their registration applications electronically or through fax to provide a copy of their application with their original signature signed with pen on paper,” as Democracy Docket explains. That law appears to undercut the accessibility of online voter registration by requiring that additional step and constitutes another hurdle in the electoral process that could easily disadvantage voters. Online voter registration isn’t even available to all Texas voters — just those updating license information, apparently — so the law seems poised to potentially affect the exact people covered by the outcome of the settled case.