Texas Ruled Out of Compliance With Federal Voting Laws

FILE – In this Feb. 26, 2014 file photo, an election official checks a voter’s photo identification at an early voting polling site in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

SAN ANTONIO (CN) – Texas failed to comply with national voting-rights laws by not automatically registering voters who renewed their driver’s licenses on a state website, a federal judge found in a one-page order made public Tuesday.

The Texas Civil Rights Project sued the state in 2016, claiming it violated the National Voter Registration Act by failing to register voters who updated their driver’s license information online.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia rejected the state’s motion for dismissal in March 2017, finding that its arguments are “insufficient to justify the burden imposed on voters.”

The civil rights group claimed in its lawsuit, filed on behalf of four Texans, that the state’s online system violates both the “motor voter” provisions of the National Voter Registration Act and the equal-protection clause.

According to the complaint, voters believed they had updated their voter registration information through the Department of Public Safety’s website, only to find they were not registered to vote. Many were forced to cast provisional ballots, which did not count.

The state argued that the voters’ improper registration was caused by their own failure to complete and submit physical voter registration forms, but the judge rejected that argument.

Judge Garcia’s order released Tuesday means state officials will soon be forced to comply with the federal registration law. The judge said a written opinion explaining the court’s rational behind the order will be released by April 14.

“The state’s widespread voter registration failures systematically undermine the right to vote in Texas,” Mimi Marziani, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said in a statement Tuesday. “By forcing compliance, we can make the government assume its rightful responsibility to register all eligible Texans and ultimately ensure that our electorate reflects the diversity of our great state.”

The group says more than 1.5 million Texans are impacted annually by the state’s failure to offer voters an opportunity to register or update their voter registration through an online transaction with DPS.

It asked the judge to require the state to correct the violations within three months of his ruling, which would put any changes in place by the October registration deadline ahead of the November midterm elections.

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