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Texas lost Motor Voter registrations, lawsuit claims

By   /   March 24, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Thousands of Texans who thought they were registered to vote had their paperwork fall through bureaucratic cracks at the Department of Public Safety, according to a lawsuit filed against the state.

Courtesy of DPS

SERVICE? A lawsuit alleges that the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Secretary of State failed to process Motor Voter applications.

The federal Motor Voter law requires states to offer voter registration when residents apply for driver’s licenses. But the Texas Civil Rights Project asserts that more than 1,800 applicants at DPS did not receive the voter registrations they requested from September 2013 to May 2015.

“This is a mere fraction,” the lawsuit stated, noting that data were reviewed from just 123 of Texas’ 254 counties.

The lawsuit cites several instances where Texans who said they completed their voter registrations via DPS were turned away from the polls.

Alicia Pierce, spokeswoman for the Texas Secretary of State, which oversees voter registration, said it was department policy not to comment on active lawsuits. But she suggested that online applicants may have failed to complete the registration process, which requires a form to be printed out and mailed to the state, which then forwards the information to county registrars.

“We do not have online registration in this state,” Pierce said.

Logan Churchwell, spokesman for the nonpartisan True the Vote, said apparent glitches in Texas’ Motor Voter program undercut calls for automatic voter registration.

“If they can’t get this right, why should Texas even consider it?” he asks.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Antonio, seeks “a court-approved plan with appropriate reporting and monitoring requirements to take all appropriate measures necessary to remedy the harm caused by [the state’s] noncompliance.”

A similar lawsuit was filed over Motor Voter complaints in North Carolina.

In Oregon, 80 percent of new registrants could be kept from this year’s primary because that state’s computer system defaulted their party registration to “unaffiliated.”

“The voter is the last to know of a problem when they are reduced to a line of data automatically transmitted from one government database to the next,” Churchwell said.

RELATED: 8 Texas counties list more voters than residents

While the Texas lawsuit focuses on alleged online problems, a “notice letter” from Battleground Texas identified lapses involving in-person customers at DPS, as well.

Battleground Texas could not be reached. Attorney Peter Kraus, representing both Battleground Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project, did not respond to Watchdog.org’s request for comment.

Neither DPS nor the Secretary of State provided budget figures for the cost of administering the Motor Voter program.

Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected]. @Kenricward

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Kenric Ward is the San Antonio-based reporter for Watchdog.org. A California native and veteran journalist who has worked on three Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, he received a BA from UCLA (Political Science/Phi Beta Kappa) and holds an MBA. He reported and edited at the San Jose Mercury News and the Las Vegas Sun before joining Watchdog.org in 2012 and previously reported from Virginia. Kenric can be reached at [email protected]