Thousands of online voter registration applications are invalid, Texas officials say

By Taylor Goldenstein
Posted Oct 5, 2018 at 6:51 PM Updated Oct 5, 2018 at 6:56 PM

More than 2,000 applications to register to vote in Texas submitted through an online service are invalid, state officials said. Travis County officials, however, said they will accept such applications.

Texas does not allow online registration, but, a website run by a California-based nonprofit, seemed to have found a loophole by allowing voters to fill out an online application and attach a photo of their signature, which the service then faxed and mailed to elections administrators.

State law allows residents to send their registration application by fax if they follow it up with a copy by mail to the county registrar within four business days.

Secretary of State Rolando Pablos’ office told the company early this week that it does not consider such registrations valid because they don’t contain original signatures and instructed county officials to issue notices to applicants saying their forms were incomplete. Though site administrators disagree, to avoid further complication, they stopped processing Texas applications that way and are now instructing users to print and mail their forms.

“We remind all eligible Texas voters that online voter registration is not available in the state of Texas,” Pablos’ office said in a statement released Wednesday. “Any website that misleadingly claims to assist voters in registering to vote online by simply submitting a digital signature is not authorized to do so.”

Pablos urged voters to check their registration status and find more information about how to register at

Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant, the county’s voter registrar, however, said he consulted with the county attorney’s office, which advised him that copies of voter registration forms are acceptable under state law. The statue that allows registrations by fax calls for a copy to be sent by mail, not an original, he said. He said his office has received a little under 800 applications through

“Our position is we’re going to accept them until somebody with some authority tells us not to,” Elfant said. “My legal counsel is confident that we’re on sound legal ground here, but if that changes, we’ll make sure that all these voters have the opportunity to vote.”

Secretary of State spokesman Sam Taylor said state law requires that an application be “in writing and signed by the applicant.”

If the county does end up having to send notices of incomplete applications, Elfant said those applicants would have 10 days from receiving the notice to send back an application with an original signature, even if that falls after the Tuesday deadline to register to vote.

Four counties

Thirty-eight states offer online registration or will soon, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

In Texas, also offered its service in Bexar, Dallas and Cameron counties. Bexar County officials will be sending notices of incomplete applications. Cameron and Dallas county officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The site launched the service this year in five other states — Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, South Carolina and Washington, D.C. — and has not had an issue anywhere else, said Sarah Jackel, general counsel for

Although Jackel said she disagrees with the state’s position and finds it “troubling,” the group removed the fax-and-mail option, notified users of the issue by email and mailed them a copy of their form that they can sign and mail it in a provided addressed and stamped envelope.

Users can also wait to receive a notice of incomplete registration and fill out, sign and return it, or they can re-register using any available method.

Legal challenges?
Taylor said that the Secretary of State’s office does not have any statutory authority to challenge Travis County’s position nor does it have any enforcement authority. All it can do is offer guidance.

“Officials who are advocates for online voter registration are advised to go through the legislative process rather than sidestepping state law and exposing invalid voter registrations to legal challenges,” Taylor said in a statement.

If a county chooses to ignore its guidance, Taylor said it opens up the possibility that a registered voter could legally challenge the validity of those registrations, or a losing candidate in a tight-margin election could contest the outcome, leaving a judge to decide on those registrations’ validity.

The issue could be solved by allowing online registration and increasing accessibility, Elfant said. He said states with such laws generally have higher registration rates, better accuracy in applications and lower election office costs.

“I’m hopeful that our state leaders who are very adamant about operating the state of Texas like a business would seriously consider online registration,” he said. “What business in this day and age would operate the way voter registration operates in Texas?”