AUSTIN, Texas - At the Travis County Registrar's Office, thousands of voter registration applications are processed every election cycle.
As a result, officials say 95 percent of residents who are eligible to vote are ready to cast a ballot, but that record was put at risk earlier this year.
"Last January we began rolling out our robust 2020 registration game plan but we were stopped in our tracks by COVID19,” said Bruce Elfant, Travis County’s Voter Registrar & Tax Assessor-Collector.
In a news conference Wednesday, Elfant explained that with traditional large scale voter drives eliminated, a new strategy was needed.
"In this age of COVID-19, we've got to find a safe and easy way to register to vote, participate in democracy, and that’s why we are so excited to unveil the text-2-register app,” said Elfant.
This new approach is actually a reboot and merging of two older out-reach programs from 2015 and 2016; each had limited success.
"In both cases, the follow-through needed a boost,” said Gretchen Nagy, director of Travis County Voter Registration.
A cartoon ad campaign explains how text-2-register works. Basic information from a resident is first sent through a text message request, which then provides a response with a link to an online form, which is filled out and printed at home.
"They can't even complete the application if not all of the information is not there and so we are not going to get any more incomplete applications anymore, which will be great,” said Elfant.
A bright yellow envelope sent to the resident is used to mail the form to the county office. Clerical processing data is already on the form to help eliminate errors later.
"We launched it softly yesterday and within two hours we had 14 applications to mail out today. The beauty of this is when the application is received in our office, we already have the date in our system. We do not have to manually enter it,” said Nagy.
Text-2-register is not online voter registration, which is allowed in 40 states, but not Texas. Elfant hopes this limited approach will eventually lead to a broader application.
"Once we have online voter registration we can eliminate that step of mailing it to them and having them mailing it back to us. We can just take advantage of the signature that’s on their driver's license,” said Elfant.
The texting plan, at the very least according to Elfant, could be a time saver and game-changer.
As an example of what could be avoided, Elfant brought up what happened in 2018 at the deadline for registrations to be mailed in. Travis County was swamped with about 40,000 late arriving applications that had to be processed, so text-2-register may help reduce that problem.
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