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Texas Voting Rights

Appeals court temporarily blocks online voter registration for Texas drivers

A federal judge had set a 45-day deadline for Texas to implement its first system of online voter registration.

The John Minor Wisdom United States 5th Court of Appeals building in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Oct. 3, 2017.

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, which put Garcia’s ruling on hold during the appeals process. That appeal could drag out for months, leaving uncertain whether the online system will be in place ahead of this fall’s elections. 

Texas drivers who renew their licenses in person can register to vote at Department of Public Safety offices, but drivers 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 has been reluctant to revise its current system. Asked to propose a fix earlier this month, the AG’s office offered no specific solution of its own and instead disputed the judge’s ruling.

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