Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Limited Ballots For Texas Early Primary Voting

Texas Election Law requires voters to vote in the county in which they currently reside. During the early voting period, and only during early voting, voters who find they are not registered in the county in which they currently reside when the go to vote, but find they remain registered to vote in a former Texas county of residence, may vote a "limited ballot" in the county in which they currently reside.  It is a violation of Texas Election Law for voters who have moved to a new county to return to their former county to voter, even though they remain registered in their former county of residence.

I have repeated that first paragraph of words many dozens of times during early voting of each election like the primary election starting on Tuesday, February 16th, for most of this century.

One of most common voter problem I and other Texas Election Judges encounter during every election is the failure of Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) offices to register some people to vote when they obtained, updated or renewed their driver's license. Over a third of all new Texas voter registrations original with Texas DPS.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 - the "Motor Voter Act" as it's commonly known - was signed into federal law by President Bill Clinton on May 20, 1993, taking effect on January 1, 1995.

The Motor Voter law expanded voting rights by requiring state governments to offer everyone eligible to vote the opportunity to complete a voter registration application when they obtain, update or renew their driver's license, or other form of identification card issued by the DPS. The federal law indicates the voter registration shall be made or updated, but Texas DPS implemented the law in a way that effectively requires voters to affirmatively request the voter registration action.

I have found in my 14 years of working as an election official in Collin County, Texas, many voters are unaware they must affirmatively request and then complete the voter registration action when updating their their driver's license or identification card with a new or changed residential address, after moving into a new house or apartment.

Most voters appearing before me who are not listed in the election poll book have recently moved into Collin County from another Texas county, or from out of state. (The poll book is the official polling place record of county residents qualified to vote in an election.) Many wrongly assume when they completed their request to update their driver's license or I.D. card with their new address - in person at a DPS office or on the DPS website - their voter registration record is just automatically updated, too. Well, kind of, but only if you read the fine print.

When the system works as intended, people check "yes" on the form completed at the DPS office that they wish to vote and their voter registration request is forwarded to the Secretary of State, who in turn forwards it onto the person's county voter registrar's office. DPS transmits more than one million voter registration requests each year. If people do not check "yes" on the form, the registration process is not initiated. Many people who know they registered in their former county of residence don't know they must re-register when they move to a another county. Sometimes, even when people do check yes, their voter registration request, apparently, gets lost in the data cloud between the DPS office and their county registrars office.

And many people using the DPS online website to renew or update information on their driver's license or I.D. card do not read the fine print saying the Texas Secretary of State (SOS) does not allow Texas voters to update their voter registration through the DPS online website, if they have moved from one Texas county to another Texas county. Texans moving between counties who update their driver's license or I.D. card through the online DPS website must separately register to vote by printing out and mailing in a voter registration application.

For voters appearing before me at my voting center who are not listed in the election poll book, the first question I asked is, "when did you register to vote in Collin County?" The answer voters most often given is, "when I changed the address on my driver's license at the DPS office,or on the DPS website. The next question I ask of those who changed their address is, "did you recently move to Collin County, from another Texas county." For those who moved into Collin County since the last election, I click to the Texas SOS voter look up webpage on my iPhone and use voter's former county residence address to see if they are still registered to vote at that address.

The lucky voters who remained registered in their former county get to listen to me recite my short Texas election law speech, as I wrote in the first paragraph of this article, and more. This is the rest of the recitation on limited ballots:
"Since you recently moved to Collin County from another Texas county, where you are still registered to vote, you may vote a limited ballot in Collin County. The limited ballot will include national, statewide and perhaps some common district candidates. You may vote a limited ballot only by appearing in person at the Main Election Office for Collin County, located near the intersection of highways 75 and 380 on the north side of McKinney. It is illegal under Texas election law for you to return to your previous county of residence to cast a ballot. Texas law requires that you vote in the county where where you currently reside. The limited ballot option is available only during early voting - it is NOT available on Election Day."

A few voters appearing at my Collin County early polling location, who have moved from Collin County to another county, but did not register to vote in their new county, and remain registered in Collin County, also got my short limited ballot speech. Except in their case I directed them to their new home county's main election office. A few of these people complained that they went to an early polling place in their new home county and were told that they had to return to Collin County, where they are registered, in order to vote a regular ballot. So, I must explain that some first time novice Judges (and too many long serving Judges) have gotten Texas election law wrong, because - "Texas Election Law requires voters to vote in the county in which they currently reside."
For the usually small number of less lucky Collin County early voters, who were not registered in any Texas county, I am able to offer only one last option. Those voters get my short "Provisional Ballot" speech, which all election judges under federal law are required to explain when all other ballot options have been exhausted. 


Houston Chronicle - Motor Voters Missing On Rolls
Houston Chronicle - State to review thousands of motor voter registration complaints

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