As Registrars Face Hurdles, Some Wonder If Online Voter Registration Is the Answer

Sep 19, 2016

With a presidential election a short seven weeks away, voter registration is heated up throughout Travis County. At the University of Texas campus, volunteers are signing up so many voters that sometimes it’s hard for them to keep enough forms on hand.


Ashley Alcantara is a senior government major at UT and she’s part of University Democrats. For about seven hours a week, she registers students to vote, and she's pretty good at it. 

In fact, for the past year, she’s the top volunteer  deputy registrar in Travis County. Over the past 12 months, Alcantara has registered close to 900 people.

But, she thinks she could do more.

The problem involves the back and forth of voter registration in Texas.

Volunteer registrars have to pick up the yellow cardboard registration applications from Travis County tax offices. Then they must return the completed registration forms back to the tax offices within five days.

Not long ago, Alcantara left the tax office with fewer forms than she wanted. She was told she needed to turn in completed forms before she could get more new forms. She doesn’t blame it on county officials – but she does say there is a bigger problem with the whole system.

“You shouldn’t have to get these dumb forms from downtown, the tax office and return them. There should be an easier way,” she said. “I just don’t get it and it just frustrates me.”

At the Travis County Tax Assessor Collector’s offices, voter registrar Bruce Elfant says his staff does everything they can to encourage registration.

Students register to vote on UT's campus.
Credit Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez / KUT

“We have a lot of cards. We don’t have an infinite number of cards. It’s always a balancing act with our 3,000 volunteer deputy registrars to make sure that they all have cards,” Elfant said. “And sometimes people come in here and ask for 1,000 cards. And they’ll never need 1,000 cards.”

There’s a reason they want the volunteers to turn in the completed registration forms before they get more. And it has to do with taking all that information from the voter registration cards and manually entering it into a database.

The deadline to register to vote is midnight Oct. 11. And then early voting starts on Oct. 24. All the cards that have been turned in by midnight Oct. 11 have to be entered and that information has to be available at the early voting polling places around town.

“We have a very short window between the deadline for voter registration and early voting to process all the cards and have the rolls ready for the early vote,” Elfant said.

Elfant agrees that the system should be easier. In fact, he was one of the biggest supporters of online voter registration last legislative session. But it got shot down.

“We get our airline tickers online. We get our concert tickets online. We pay all manner of fees and pay our toll fees online,” he said. “The fact that we’re requiring our voters to fill out paper voter registration cards and have them processed the way we were in the 19th century is very outdated.”

Opponents of online voter registration say they’re worried about security. Still, online voter registration is very likely to come up again in the 2017 legislative session. Already, 31 states and the District of Columbia offer online voter registration.

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