Every two years, the Texas Legislature convenes for 140 days. It is during this brief period that state lawmakers have the opportunity to improve our election laws.

Our Republican and Democratic county clerks, as well as nonpartisan election administrators throughout the state, have consistently told us they need help improving election technology.

This group of election experts has made clear that the best way to modernize our elections is to pass online voter registration legislation.

State Rep. Celia Israel

Unfortunately, instead of improving the technology we use, we’ve seen repeated attempts by some lawmakers to make it harder to vote, all under the guise of voter fraud prevention. We have had to fight back against efforts to shorten early voting, reduce the amount of polling locations, and other measures to keep eligible voters from the polls. Texas keeps trying to restrict voting, and the recent voter roll purges by the Secretary of State make it clear that we’re not learning from our mistakes.

That’s why I authored House Bill 361 to create online voter registration. This simple change would create a more secure process for voter registration and ensure our voter rolls are accurate. If your name is even one letter off, you could have problems when you try to vote. All it takes is for one overworked employee entering in the voter registration data to accidentally type “Gonzales” with an “s” instead of “Gonzalez” with a “z”. Voting is too important for our systems to be susceptible to these kinds of errors.

Prior to the whole fiasco, I met with Secretary of State David Whitley. I requested the meeting to ask for his support on House Bill 361. He politely explained that his office would be supportive as a resource, but that he could not advocate for any one legislative priority. I respected that choice and understood his perspective at the time.

Just two days later, however, the Secretary of State haphazardly announced a directive questioning the citizenship of a list of voters, which was later revealed to have included naturalized citizens. To this day, Secretary Whitley defends this voter purge policy that isn’t in federal or state law. He claims that the process falls broadly under his office’s required duties to engage in regular routine voter roll list maintenance. In other words, he was just making sure the voter roll is as accurate as possible.

If that were the case, Secretary Whitley would implement online voter registration today under that same broad interpretation. The laws he uses to defend his voter purge are the same ones that would allow him to create online voter registration without a directive from the legislature.

At its core, online voter registration is simply good list maintenance procedure. It is more secure than our current paper form-based process. In states where it has been implemented, it has been shown to improve the voter authentication process, decrease the rate of errors, and reduce election costs. If we can safely and securely do online banking, then surely we can do online voter registration. This is an easy way to make our elections better.

It’s time to stop trying to scare eligible voters away from the polls. Rather than continuing to wage war against the voting rights of Texas’s poor and minority communities, we should be focusing our efforts on positive, proven measures to expand voting rights and make voting simpler. If Secretary Whitley’s goal is to improve efficiency and accuracy, then it’s time for us to join 38 other states in implementing online voter registration.