Texas officials won a key voting-process decision this week when a federal appellate court ruled against voters suing the state over its voter registration system.
Wednesday’s decision by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a 2018 district court judgment ordering the state to create an online voter registration system.
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, a Democrat appointed by then-President Bill Clinton, ruled last year that Texas violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act’s “motor voter” provision requiring states to offer qualified driver’s license applicants an opportunity to simultaneously register to vote.
Three registered voters had sued the Texas Secretary of State and Texas Department of Public Safety in 2016, complaining the state’s online driver’s license renewal and change-of-address system did not also automatically update their voter registrations online. Texas does not use online voter registration.
Each voter had previously failed to properly complete the registration process after accessing the Texas DPS website, which clearly states:
“You are not registered to vote until you have filled out the online application, printed it, and mailed it to your local County Voter Registrar. Click here to Download a Voter Registration Application.”
All three plaintiffs later became registered to vote.
During oral arguments in February, the state’s attorney told the court that the plaintiffs had no reason to sue because they were able to register. The attorney also said Texas law requires an in-person signature on voter registration applications.
“As enacted by Congress, the NVRA recognizes that requiring a voter to sign a voter registration application is an important means of upholding election integrity,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement praising this week’s ruling. “Federal judges have no right to alter state voter registration processes on the whim of plaintiffs who are already registered to vote.”
The appellate court’s ruling sends the case back to district court with instructions to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims for lack of standing.