Online voter registration in Texas temporarily blocked by court

ALEXA URA, Texas Tribune

Texas will not be required to meet a 45-day deadline to implement online voter registration for drivers — for now. 

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday temporarily blocked a lower court ruling that mandated a voter registration system that would allow drivers to register to vote when they renew their driver’s licenses online.

The requirement was part of U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s ruling that Texas was violating a federal voter registration law — also known as the “Motor Voter Act” — that’s meant to ease the voter registration process.

Pointing to registration deadlines for the November election, Garcia ordered the state to create the online system — the first mechanism for online voter registration in the state — in order to comply with the Motor Voter Act, which requires states to allow people to register to vote while getting their driver’s licenses. 

Last week, the state appealed to the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit, putting Garcia’s ruling on hold. That appeal could drag out for months, leaving uncertain whether the online system will be in place ahead of fall elections.  

Texas drivers who renew their licenses in person can register at Department of Public Safety offices, but those who update their licenses on the DPS website are instead directed to a registration form on the secretary of state’s website that they must print out and send to their county registrar. 

That disparate treatment violates both the registration law and the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause by treating voters who deal with their driver’s licenses online differently than those who register in person, Garcia ruled. 

The state been reluctant to revise its current system. Asked to propose a fix earlier this month, the attorney general’s office offered no specific solution of its own. Instead, it disputed the judge’s ruling.

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