Travis County breaks voter registration record, Texas may soon have online voting

Chase Karacostas

Travis County now has the highest total number of registered voters ever in the county with more than 740,000 people registered.

The county broke its record last month when it surpassed the previous record, set in November 2016 with 732,000. At the time, that number represented close to 92 percent of the eligible voting population in the county, according to Bruce Elfant, Travis County voter registrar. The current number, due to growth, likely represents around 90 percent,
Elfant said.

“That’s pretty healthy (growth),” Elfant said. “I expect we’ll add 30–40,000 by November. I mean, 10,000 of that is going to happen at UT I bet.”

However, because of a lack of data on the total number of eligible voters, both percentages are rough estimates. A 2015 survey on the county’s voting age population said the county had 794,309 eligible voters, according to PolitiFact Texas.

Elfant said he hopes to crack the county’s record for the highest percent of registered voters, also set in 2016, by the November midterms. But right now, he said he is focusing on increasing awareness for the primary run-offs coming up in May, for which registration ends today.

TX Votes president Zach Price said it was “phenomenal” to hear Travis County breaking its registration record. And with the primary runoff election voting coming up in a month, Price said his organization is gearing up to get as many students to the polls as possible.

“The runoffs are tough because the voting for it starts during finals week,” Price said. “We’re trying to let students know that there is an election coming up, especially students who voted in the primaries (in March).”

Online voter registration

Texas is one of just 12 states lacking online voter registration. However, the state may soon be forced to implement some form of it because of a 2016 lawsuit accusing Texas of violating federal voter registration law.

Whenever people go to renew their driver’s license in person, they are given the option to register to vote at the same time. However, the same option is not available for people renewing their license online.

Instead, for anyone who does want to register when they are renewing their license online, the Department of Public Safety’s website allows users to check a box saying they want to register, which directs them to a form that must be printed, filled out and sent to the registrar.

The DPS’s website specifies checking the box “does not register you to vote.” However, plaintiffs in the lawsuit said the language is confusing and leads users to falsely believe they have been registered to vote.

As a result, federal judge Orlando Garcia recently ruled Texas was in violation of the National Voter Registration Act, which requires states to let citizens register to vote when they renew their licenses.

The state attorney general’s office, which is representing the DPS in the case, said they would be appealing the decision to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, according to the
Texas Tribune.

If the state is forced to implement online voter registration, Texans will have a new and possibly easier route for registering. However, government professor Daron Shaw said this may not necessarily lead to increased voter turnout, the ultimate goal of increasing registrations.

“It is undeniable that the number of registered voters would increase,” Shaw said. “(But) it’s not entirely clear to me that you’re going to get a lot more voters out of that. Essentially, the people who would be dissuaded from registering from the cost or the difficulty associated with registration also tend to be ­­— it’s not a completely perfect correlation — the people who are unlikely to vote even if registered.”