Registering to vote is supposed to be easy. Sign up before deadline and get your voter card. But two Tarrant County residents ran into gobs of trouble. Both fell into the same rabbit hole.That little check-off box on the Texas Department of Public Safety drivers' license form looks inviting. The question beside it innocently asks, do you want to register to vote here, too?Both Ann Lipsey of Arlington and Sydney Rochelle of Fort Worth say they checked the box on their DPS forms and waited for their registration cards to arrive in the mail.They never came.Lipsey, 70, got antsy because the May primary was near. She called Tarrant County's voter registration office three times."I got a little ugly," she admits.She didn't know whom to blame in the 3-step process: DPS which collects the information? The Secretary of State's office which sends the information electronically to the voter's home county? Or the county registrar which sends out the voter cards.Rochelle, 18, renewed her license at a DPS office and checked the box. When a card didn't come, she began to panic before the Oct. 9 registration deadline. She made more calls and finally registered a second time. She made it on the final day.The Watchdog interviewed officials from DPS, the Secretary of State's office and Tarrant County Elections.These officials say the system works. More often than not, they say, errors are caused by voters themselves. One official said some people filling out forms had "keystroke problems."Lipsey checked the box when she was changing her address online. That should have taken her to the Secretary of State's web page which explains the rest of the procedure.Eligible voters must print a form, fill it in and mail it to their county registrar. Online registration is not allowed in Texas.It's easy to see how someone can get confused. Lipsey says she filled out the form, but her information didn't show up in the state system. Months later, she registered again.Rochelle's problem began after her information arrived at Tarrant County, county Elections Administrator Steve Raborn says. "When we attempted to import the file on Oct. 3, there was an import error that prevented 114 records - including Ms. Rochelle's - from being processed."Raborn called in voter registration's software vendor. The vendor took 10 days to fix the problem. The 114 voters have been added to the registration rolls, he said.A third case was reported this month by the Houston Chronicle. Helen Toscano of Spring said she checked the box on a DPS form. When her card didn't arrive, she called the Harris County elections office and learned that her request was cancelled because a previous registration from another county, where she hadn't lived for some time, remained active."It's really unbelievable that they just cancelled it without telling me, especially in an election year," she told the newspaper.The DPS check-off box is required under the federal Motor Voter Law. Originally, there were more problems when the information was transferred on paper, election officials say. Since 2010, transfers are done electronically, and errors are minimized, these same officials say.Tarrant County's Raborn wants online registration. "A lot of other states do it, and it eliminates a lot of keystroke problems."The Watchdog has a simple recommendation. Why journey through three governmental bureaucracies when a goal can be accomplished by visiting one?DPS > Secretary of State > county registrar. Oy. The Watchdog has a headache.So let's make an addition to Watchdog Nation's list of things that look tempting but you still shouldn't do:Don't use outdoor postal mailboxes because thieves can fish mail out.Don't let door-to-door electricity salesmen into your home because that's not the way to shop for power.Don't fall for an air conditioning company that offers a $49 repair special postcard in the mail.And the newest: Don't believe in the power of the check-off box to get something important done.The Watchdog column appears Fridays and Sundays.Dave Lieber, 817-390-7043Twitter @DaveLieber
What to do
When registering to vote, expect a voter card to arrive in less than two weeks from the county office. Otherwise, call and inquire.
Check if your registration at www.VoteTexas.gov or call the county registrar.
To learn more about voter registration, visit the Texas Secretary of State's website or your county registrar's website.