Why Texas is the Most Difficult State in the Country to Register Voters

Every voter registrar must be a deputy and can only register voters in their own county: “In a state with 254 counties… that’s extremely burdensome.”

By Laura RiceOctober 11, 2016 10:46 am

Today’s the last day to register to vote in Texas in time for the November election. Some county registrar offices are staying open until midnight to give people as long as possible to complete the process, but most will close at the end of the business day.

(Editor’s note: Not sure if you’re registered? Go to VoteTexas.gov and click on Am I Registered? in the scrolling bar at the top.)

In Texas you can check online to see if you’re registered, but you can’t actually register online and some 3 million Texans are eligible to vote but not registered. Complicating matters, according to a new piece in the magazine “The Nation,” is a labyrinth of laws putting up barriers so difficult to surmount that nobody wants to invest in helping more voters register.

Ari Berman, senior contributing writer for the Nation and author of “Give Us The Ballot,” says one voter registration worker told him that registrars need a Ph.D in “voter obstacle-ology” to register voters in Texas.

“It really is the most difficult state in the country to register voters,” he says.

Texas is the only state that requires registrars to be deputized by the county they live in, but it only holds trainings once a month. For example, a registrar in Bexar County standing outside the AT&T Stadium after a Spurs game would only be able to register San Antonians and other Bexar County residents – and not anyone from nearby Austin, New Braunfels or San Marcos.

“In a state with 254 counties … that’s extremely burdensome,” he says. “It basically makes statewide voter registration drives impossible.”

Berman says if the point of making each county deputize its registrars is to keep voter registration localized, officials could still have “statewide training … that’s accessible to all.”

In 2014, Texas ranked 45th in voter registration and “dead last” in voter turnout, Berman says.

“Texas has more unregistered voters than the total population of 20 states,” he says. “I think that’s absolutely crazy. If I was the state of Texas, I would be thinking about … how can we not have 3 million unregistered voters? Instead, they’re putting all these procedures in place making it very, very difficult to register voters, which is leading to all of these problems in Texas.”

A way to increase registration without also increasing the risk of voter fraud would be a tactic that the state of Oregon uses: register voters at the DMV. This process differs from “Motor Voter Act” in 1993 because it’s not simply allowing for voter registration at the DMV – it’s registering people automatically, at the same time that they get their license or state ID card.

“You don’t have to do anything affirmatively, you’re just going to be automatically registered by the state,” he says. “If Texas did that, they’d be able to register, probably, within a very short period of time, hundreds of thousands of voters. It would just require the political will and the technology to do it.”

Post by Hannah McBride.