Texas Automates Voter Registration at the Driver License Offices
by Project Vote, Mon May 24, 2010 at 05:35:06 PM EDT
Cross-posted at Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters Another big state has taken steps to modernize voter registration at its motor vehicle offices. The Texas Department of Public Safety, which oversees state driver licenses and identification cards, has instituted a new system that simplifies the voter registration process.
"The new Driver License System allows us to provide voter registration information to the Secretary of State's office electronically, eliminating the need to print and transfer paper documents," said Greg Gloria, deputy assistant director of the Driver License Division at DPS, speaking of the new system that took over in late April. "This process eliminates delays that occur as a result of hand delivering or mailing the printed registration forms and the time needed to enter the information into the official voter registration files."
As required by the federal National Voter Registration Act of 1993, better known as the 'Motor Voter' law, Texas motor vehicle workers ask all clients if they want to register to vote or to update their registration information. If the client replies yes, state employees ask eligibility questions and enter that information directly into their computers, which then does several things to streamline the process for officials and voters.
First, software captures the registrant's eligibility information -- name, age, address, citizenship, etc. -- as a database file. Then a voter application will be automatically compiled and printed out. Motor vehicle employees then ask the registrant to review the application for typos, and to sign it using a pen. The application is then scanned, where the signature is electronically captured as an electronic image file. That image file is then combined with the voter's other digitized information and electronically sent to election offices.
DPS officials said they had experimented with using electronic signature pads to capture signatures, but were not pleased with the image quality. Instead, they decided to use electronic scanners, and then destroy the paper applications as soon as the voter file information was recorded in electronic form. Election officials do not see any paper, however, just the electronic voter file.
The new Driver License System took several years to implement. In 2003, Texas' legislature required all voter registration applications from the agency be submitted in electronic form to the Secretary of State. In 2005, DPS began looking at revamping their computer systems. A pilot was developed in 2009, and the new system was rolled out across the state between January and April 2010.
Almost immediately, motor vehicles started seeing cost savings, Gloria said, pointing to reduced mailing and personnel costs associated with data entry from paper applications. In 2007-2008, Texas motor vehicle offices received more than 1.35 million voter applications, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.