EDITORIAL: Voting blocks: Texas should implement online voter registration

Technology has made it easier than ever to engage ourselves in America’s participatory form of government. Astronauts already have voted from outer space. We also have found in recent years that our elections system can be compromised without adequate safeguards, once proper precautions are implemented the system can be more efficient and secure as ever.

Even registering to vote is as simple as tapping a few keys on a computer application. Nearly 40 U.S. states now offer only voter registration.

Texas isn’t one of them. In fact, the state is fighting efforts to allow it.

Websites and social media platforms, such as Yahoo and Facebook, have created links that help people register to vote. Users simply enter the necessary information and the apps send it to the states. About 2,000 Texans filled out such applications online through vote.org.

State officials recently ruled that the registration applications are invalid, because they weren’t prepared using state-approved methods. Voter registration is handled through county elections offices, however, and some, including Travis County, have accepted them.

There is no reason not to.

Voter applications must be signed. The online programs enable applicants to sign online or send a photo of their signature. State officials claim that the forms are invalid because the electronic signatures aren’t originals. However, electronic signatures, and systems of usernames and passwords, already are accepted for other secure documents, including income tax returns and applications for federal benefits.

State officials say they don’t know how secure the online applications are. But they can’t be any less secure than the current system, which is to fill out preprinted postcards and mail them in. It’s reasonable to assume that online registration would be more accurate. The current postcard system requires that the data be scanned or manually typed into counties’ computer systems, raising the possibility of misreads or typing errors. What’s more, anyone can put anything down on such cards, and verifying information should be no different, whether it’s written on a postcard or entered through a computer app.

At least one federal court agrees. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled in June that the state’s rejection of online voter registration violates the National Voter Registration Act.

The state is appealing the ruling.

Online voter registration has been proposed in the past and even received significant support, but legislative leaders have held up the bills and never brought them up for final votes — even though the idea is supported by many county elections administrators, tax assessors, voter registrars, county clerks and the Texas Association of Counties.

The Secretary of State’s Office has said it could implement a secure online registration system.

All but a dozen states are already offering online registration and no problems have arisen to make states stop using it. Texas’ refusal to accept this simple move to modernity only adds to the growing list of ways state officials are trying to make it harder for Texans to cast their ballots.