Election officials in Texas are facing mounting challenges in implementing new voting procedures in time for the upcoming primaries, less than a year after Republican lawmakers pushed through a restrictive voting bill.
Officials are holding their first election under SB 1, a comprehensive overhaul that limits the hours that counties can offer early voting and prohibits election officials from sending unsolicited mail-in voting applications, among other provisions.
The voting changes were signed into law in September, giving officials and voters less than six months to become acquainted with the changes in time for the March 1 primary. Issues ranging from the rejection of mail-in ballot applications to a temporary voter registration card shortage have since arisen ahead of early voting beginning on February 14 and a mail-in ballot application deadline on February 18.
“Unfortunately, we had a Republican legislature that was so determined to make it harder to vote that no thought was given to implementation,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas. “This is a shambles on every level.”
However, Secretary of State John Scott’s office has responded to the criticism. Scott’s communications director, Sam Taylor, said that in preparation for the election, the office held seminars and sent out mass emails to help officials navigate the new law.
“We are a nonpartisan office, and our job as public servants is to assist and aid the counties in getting this election done,” Scott, an appointee of Republican Gov. Greg Abbot, said Thursday during a meeting with Bexar County officials.
Election officials have already rejected hundreds of mail-in voting applications as a result of the new law, which requires voters to include either their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their social security number on the application. The identification number must correspond to one of the numbers on the voter’s registration record.
The problem has been exacerbated by the prohibition on election officials assisting voters with the mail-in voting process. At a press conference last month, Dana DeBeauvoir, the now-retired Travis County clerk, emphasized the legal constraints that election officials face, stating that the law prohibits clerks from sending, promoting, or doing anything to assist a voter with a mail-in ballot.
She said Scott, who has ties to former President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 Pennsylvania election results, has been unhelpful and difficult to reach.
Taylor, Scott’s spokesman, responded to the criticism by stating that the office has dedicated legal staff to answer questions from election officials.
Taylor also mentioned that Scott’s office issued a 28-page comprehensive legal guidance on correcting defects on mail-in ballots under SB 1 in late January. According to Scott’s office, the rejection rate for mail-in ballot applications was 4.7 percent as of February 4.
The Most Common Cause Texas, like other local organizations, has established a hotline and is urging voters to educate themselves on the new law. According to Gutierrez, advocates are also advising voters to include both ID numbers on their applications to avoid rejection.
Mail-in ballot applications were sent to the wrong office in one of the state’s largest counties.
Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, is handled by the elections administrator rather than the clerk. Clark stated that she was successful in getting the applications to the correct person, elections administrator Jacquelyn Callanen. However, the procedure is a little complicated and time-consuming. Clark stated that she must keep a detailed tracking log of the applications from the time they are received and then notify Callanen’s office of any new applications that arrive so that they can be picked up.
The issue appears to be the result of a mailer sent by Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales that contained the incorrect address for mailing applications.
Meanwhile, a group of 40 legislators from Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee offered to assist Texas with its “paper shortage.” The group of Democrats said they “would like to extend an offer to the people of Texas to assist with the procurement of paper for the purpose of printing applications to register to vote.”