Thousands of voter registrations rejected
More than 2,000 potential voters in Texas had their voters’ registration applications unfairly rejected by the Texas Secretary of State, a national advocacy group said Wednesday.
Those voters will be barred from voting on Nov. 6 unless they re-submit updated applications with new signatures on them, according to the Secretary of State’s office, which will send affected voters the paperwork by mail. It must be resubmitted to the state within 10 days.
Vote.org, a nonpartisan group, said it helped 2,400 Texans from Dallas, Bexar, Cameron and Travis counties submit voter registration applications that use digital photographs of their signatures.
State officials say the applications submitted by the group do not comply with Texas law. Voter registration applications must include a handwritten signature, and that signature cannot be a copy, digital signature or photograph of a signature, according to a spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State.
“Our Elections Division instructed Vote.org to change their process immediately in order to comply with state law and avoid misleading Texas voters into submitting invalid registration forms,” said Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State’s office.
The deadline for voters to register for the Nov. 6 election is Oct. 9. But those being directed to resubmit their paperwork via mail with corrected signatures will still have 10 days to do so, Taylor said.
Texas election law is not clear as to whether a handwritten signature is necessary. It calls for a voter registration to be “submitted by personal delivery, by mail, or by telephonic facsimile machine” and states that it must be “in writing and signed by the applicant.”
Lawyers for Vote.org disagree with the Secretary of State’s interpretation and say they “reserve all rights to challenge it.” They say there is nothing in the election code requiring a handwritten signature. Still, they are changing the way they help Texas voters sign up by directing them to mail in a form that includes a handwritten signature.
Raven Brooks, chief operating officer for Vote.org, said the state’s actions are frustrating and explain why Texas has some of the worst voter registration and voter participation rates in the nation. He says the Secretary of State’s office “throws up roadblocks to that participation.”
Brooks said he’s worried that some of the potential voters who tried to register with help from his group are not going to see their mail in time or just not follow through with another step to get registered.
Texas is already reporting a record surge in voter registration heading into the midterm elections. The state last week reported 15.6 million voters are registered for the 2018 midterm elections — about 1.6 million more than the last midterm election in 2014. Just since March, Texas has seen the voter rolls grow by about 400,000.
Texas is one of 12 states that do not allow online voter registration, which is allowed in 38 states plus the District of Columbia.
This election season, Vote.org was working directly with the four counties to boost registration. Brooks said the plan was to see how those registration efforts went and then expand the program to other counties.
Vote.Org officials said the online tool they created enabled Texans to register to vote under the provision of the Texas Election Code that allows registration by fax with a copy of the application sent by mail within four business days. With the tool, voters were able to capture their signatures electronically, submit their forms by fax, and initiate the printing and mailing of a copy of their form to county officials.
Taylor said the problem was that Vote.org was affixing voters’ digital signatures to the applications for the voters, which is not only illegal in Texas but also creates a risk for fraud and abuse.
This is hardly the first time rules in Texas on voter registration signatures have created a problem. Civil rights groups sued the state in 2016, arguing that the different systems for online and in-person registrants violates the federal National Voter Registration Act, often called Motor Voter. While the state accepts electronic signatures from people who go to a Texas Department of Public Safety Office to change a voter registration, it does not accept changes submitted through the state’s online drivers license system.
The Texas Civil Rights Project says the state’s practices create confusion for potentially thousands of voters who think they’ve changed their voting information, but in fact have not.