Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hundreds Of Motor Voters Forced To Cast Provisional Ballots

by Michael Handley

After working the 12 days of early voting as an Election Judge at one of Collin County's busier polling centers, I wrote an article, Broken Texas Motor Voter Registration Process:

Every day during early voting, several people who tried to check-in to vote at my polling location were not listed on the Collin County poll list. The first question I asked these would-be voters was, "when did you register to vote in Collin County?"  The answer most often given by the would-be voters was, "when I changed the address on my driver's license at the DPS (or on the DPS website) after I moved to Collin County," from another Texas county.  A quick voter registration look up on the Texas Secretary of State's "Am I Registered to Vote" web page often found these new, and some not so new, Collin County residents remained registered in the county of their former residence.
The lucky voters who remained registered in their former county of residence got to listen to my short, "you can vote a limited ballot," speech...

The small number of less lucky Collin County voters, who were not registered in any Texas county, got to listen to my short "provisional ballot" speech and proceed through the provisional ballot process...
The broken Texas Motor Voter Registration process has been a top problem for voters and polling place officials for many years...

By the end of Election Day Collin County Election Judges processed 3,565 provisional ballots. Only a portion of those provisional ballots had "failed DPS motor voter registration" problem description written on the green provisional ballot envelop.  Even so, had "limited ballots" not been available during early voting, many more voters in Collin County and across Texas would have been forced to cast provisional ballots.  Current Texas election law does not allow voters to cast Limited Ballots on Election Day. Even voters who remained registered in their form county of residence could only vote a provisional ballot on Election Day.  Each county's ballot board typically accepts only a portion of provisional ballots to be counted, after a case by case assessment. 

Today, The Houston Chronicle published another article on Texas' broken motor voter registration process: 
More than 500 voters in Harris, Bexar, Dallas and Tarrant counties were forced to cast provisional ballots in the presidential elections after their registrations filed at driver's license offices allegedly were not processed as rapidly as required by the state's Motor Voter law, according to state and county officials' ongoing review of complaints from voters across Texas.

In interviews with the Chronicle, officials in the state's four largest urban counties all expressed concern about a small but growing number of motor voter registration gaffes identified by Texans whose provisional ballots will now be belatedly counted.

"I support a review of DPS' (Department of Public Safety) 'motor voter' procedures to clear the air about the popular claim that DPS is frequently failing to enter driver's license applicants' voter registration requests or is somehow dropping entered requests for reporting to the secretary of state," said Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners. "I expect that DPS will be cooperative and diligent in making any necessary changes to ensure that all applicants are registered to vote and so that it's easier to troubleshoot registration errors prior to election day."

The complaining voters represent a fraction of the Texas electorate. This year alone, more than 233,000 new voters successfully registered at DPS offices - about a third of all new voters.

Errors, technical woes

DPS officials said they will work with election officials to determine whether hundreds of would-be motor voters' election-related complaints were prompted by employee errors, technical problems with transferring electronic records, or other causes, DPS Spokesman Tom Vinger told the Chronicle.

Under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, the "Motor Voter Act" as it's commonly known, all states dramatically expanded sites for voter registration to include driver's license offices.

"I am certain that the secretary of state and DPS are working diligently to fix this problem," said State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who was a sponsor of the law. "If they can't, I trust the Legislature would be more than willing to put protections in place to ensure this doesn't happen again."

"After all, access to the ballot isn't a partisan issue - it's the basis of our democracy."

Read the full story @ Houston Chronicle.

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