Travis Voter Registrar Tests "Text Request"

New system allows citizens to register to vote by text

Travis County is still contending with how Texas' voter ID law cuts down the number of ballots cast, but at least there's a new, easier way to get a voter registration application – by phone.

Austin will be the testing ground for Text Request, a simple system that will allow residents to request a postage-paid voter registration application via their cell phones. All they have to do is text "Register" to IVOTE or 48683: the system will then ask them for their home address, and the form will be sent for them to fill out and return.

Voter Registrar and Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant's office started looking into technologically based solutions for increasing the voter rolls as a response to legislative failures to adopt online registration. The hope is that Text Request – a system developed by Democratic ex-state Senator Joe Christie and offered for free to Travis County – will appeal to millennials who are used to doing all their business digitally. Christie noted that 27% of the area's population is aged 20-34, and he called texting "the most effective way to get them registered and then get them to vote."

It's all part of Elfant's push to increase voter enrollment in Travis County. Currently, Texas is ranked 42nd in the nation for voter registration, and dead last for turnout. To counter that, Elfant plans to increase registration locally from roughly 81% to 90% by the 2016 presidential election. That means adding 75,000 eligible voters to the current rolls of 642,000 in under a year. Elfant said, "It's pretty ambitious, but it's doable. Now we just have to figure out how to get them to go out and vote."

Text Request may not get Elfant all the way to his target, but he's already seeing some response. In the first four days since the project was announced on Aug. 6, his office had received over 100 text inquiries.

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Text Request, Travis County, voter registrar, Bruce Elfant, Text Request, voting

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