I owe an apology to all Texas county voter registrars (and especially the Travis County voter registrar), having now received a copy of a September 13, 2013 memo from the state director of elections that was sent out to all county election officials. I am deeply grateful to Sondra Haltom and Empower the Vote Texas for passing a copy of this memo along to me. Note – the memo is, as far as I can tell, not linked anywhere on the Secretary of State’s website, which is a departure from the practice of that agency to make all directives and notices to election officials visible to the public at large.
I hope that this is an oversight and not a change in agency policy, because otherwise I will have to engage in time-consuming public information requests to ensure that my information is up-to-date.
The memo indicates that as part of an update of the TEAM statewide voter registration database the name fields on the voter registration certificate are now expanded to include fields for current and former names, as separate elements of the voter registration certificate, and that this finer granularity in the database is called for because of the voter photo I.D. law. I’ve attached a link to the PDF copy of the memo. The relevant text is reprinted below:
Voter Registration: The implementation of SB 14 will not change the current registration process, or the current voter registration application. However, the new law does require that a voter’s name on the Official List of Registered Voters (OLRV) match exactly or be “substantially similar” to the name listed on their identification used at the polling place. If a voter’s name is not identical, but is “substantially similar,” the voter will be required to initial an affidavit stating they are the same person.
If the voter’s names on the OLRV and identification are neither identical nor substantially similar, the voter will need to vote provisionally. Therefore, the Office of the Secretary of State suggests that voters check the name on the registration, and update their registration as necessary no later than 30 days prior to an election in which the voter will vote. This will ensure that any changes made are in effect for the election. Voters will be able to use the “Am I Registered?” feature (reached through the VoteTexas.gov website) to compare the name on the OLRV to their identification. If your county needs assistance or tips on how to provide outreach to voters that may be impacted, please contact the Office of the Secretary of State.
What changes are being made to the Official List of Registered Voters (OLRV), the voter’s certificate, and the “Am I Registered?” website to provide better assistance to voters?
Official List of Registered Voters – The OLRV used to display an individual’s former name if a middle name was not present in the voter’s record. This has been corrected. The PDF version of the OLRV will now display a person’s name in the following order: Last Suffix (if any), First Middle. CSV versions of the list will retain the individual fields, but the “Full Name” column has been updated to also display a person’s name in the following order: Last Suffix (if any), First Middle. The Former name and the suffix will also be added as columns in the spreadsheet at the far end of each row.
Voter Registration Certificate – The Voter Registration Certificate has been updated. On the left hand side, where the residential address is displayed, the certificate (under current law) is required to show former name, if present. As such, the name on the certificate under residential address will show as follows: Last Suffix (if any), First Middle Former. On the right hand side of the certificate, under the mailing address the name will be displayed as First Middle Last, Suffix. The name listed with the mailing address will match what will be displayed on the OLRV. [Emphasis added].
“Am I Registered?” – The “Am I Registered?” site that can be found through VoteTexas.gov has also been updated, so that the name on the site matches what will be displayed on the OLRV. Therefore, a person may determine whether or not his/her name needs to be updated prior to heading to the polls. A link has been included to allow for voters needing to update their name to be redirected to Texas Online in order to more conveniently facilitate this update.
What bothers me in particular about this memo is that (1) it fails to clarify that the name as printed on the voter registration certificate should be determined by the format chosen by the voter when registering to vote, (or correcting a prior registration to reflect a name change), and (2) it implies that the change in printing formats for the certificate is a consequence of the voter I.D. law.
Giving the Secretary of State’s office the benefit of the doubt, I expect that this was accidental, and was not the intended message of the memo. Instead, I assume that the intention was to describe how the voter’s information would be displayed on the “Am I Registered to Vote” website. But one can certainly understand how a county registrar would interpret the memo to mean that the voter’s former name as listed in the List of Registered Voters had to be printed on the voter registration certificate even when the voter had corrected that information years or decades previously, and even when that printing would not reflect the voter’s current name use.