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Registrations missing in motor-voter system
By R.A. Dyer and Martha Deller for the Star-Telegram. 30 October, 2004

Some Texans who thought they registered to vote through the Department of Public Safety have suffered an unpleasant surprise when they showed up to cast their ballots.

In at least a half-dozen cases including some in Johnson County voters discovered that they couldn't cast ballots or that their vote likely wouldn't count.

The problem? Voter registration forms supposedly handled by DPS somehow never made it to county election officials.

Who's to blame remains a mystery. But it has already caused headaches during early balloting and could become a wider problem during general voting Tuesday.

"There have been pockets of complaints," DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said. "We're sympathetic. We understand this is a serious matter."

Through the state's motor-voter law, adopted in 1992, DPS employees offer registration forms to motorists when they renew their driver's licenses. The DPS handles about half the voter registrations processed in Texas, according to officials.

Those forms then are sent county registrars, and an electronic copy goes to the Secretary of State's office in Austin.

But that hasn't happened in a "smattering of cases," said Secretary of State spokesman Bill Kenyon.

In such cases, frustrated voters can request a provisional ballot, although such a ballot is worthless if the original registration form never made it from the DPS, Kenyon said.

What exactly happened remains unclear, although Vinger says his agency is not to blame.

"There are numerous possible explanations, although we believe that the DPS has performed ... in a proper manner," he said.

The problem has left some local officials scratching their heads. Johnson County Election Administrator Cheri Haley said she has been unable to verify registrations for several voters.

Haley said someone from her office picks up voter registration applications weekly from the Cleburne DPS office. She also downloads voter registration records from the Secretary of State's office.

"We've complained about this motor-voter system for years," she said. "We're not alone in this. Every county has felt this. By us physically picking them up, it lessens the chance of this happening."

Haley said her office was unable to verify the registration of two Johnson County couples who said they registered online through DPS.

State officials, however, say there is no online registration through DPS or any other agency.

Kenyon said that residents can download registration forms to mail in or, in some cases, can use the Web site to amend existing registration forms.

But a voter who thinks he or she has registered online is mistaken, Kenyon said.

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