the Texas Attorney General’s Oce. While the new voting-by-mail regu- lations were approved to reduce the potential for fraudulent voting, local election ocials and policy experts said the regulations have added hur- dles for individuals who vote by mail. Among the ocials who encoun- tered issues with the new mail-in ballot regulations was Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Lon- goria, who resigned from her position in April eective July 1 following chal- lenges with mail-in ballots during the March 3 primary. As the county works to adapt to SB 1, the Harris County Election Commission has tasked an executive search rm to ll Longo- ria’s position by June 30 to help lead county elections ahead of the Novem- ber general election. Mail-in ballot rejections To be eligible to vote by mail in Texas, state law dictates an individual must be 65 years old or older; sick or disabled; out of the country; expected to give birth; or conned to jail but otherwise eligible to vote. Under SB 1, voters are required to provide a partial Social Security num- ber or driver’s license number on their mail-in ballot applications to receive ballots. Once voters receive their ballots, they must include the same numbers used on their applications for the ballots to be counted. Longoria said many voters either missed the new ID portion on their mail-in ballot applications or did not provide matching ID numbers when returning their ballots. Additionally, Longoria said a privacy ap aimed at protecting voters’ ID numbers has likewise caused issues. In May, Texas Secretary of State ocials unveiled new mail-in ballot envelopes that highlight the ID por- tion on the ballot with a large box, but Longoria said she believes its place- ment beneath the privacy ap could still lead to rejections. According to Taylor, the privacy ap is required by law to protect vot- ers’ ID numbers. While Harris County’s mail-in ballot rejection rate dropped from 19.2% in the March primaries to 9.9% during the May 7 local elections, Longoria said she does not expect the decline to continue in the midterm elections. “[Local elections usually have] a much smaller electorate, and they tend to have the most focused, highly educated, informed voters, so [those voters] are probably more aware of the provisions,” Longoria said.
In Montgomery County, roughly 6.2% of the 5,142 mail-in ballots sent in during the March primaries were rejected, up from 0.23% in the 2020 presidential election. By the May 7 election, the county’s mail-in ballot rejection rate dropped to 0.67%. According to Montgomery County Elections Manager Estela Sánchez, the county’s declining rate of rejections can be attributed to an insert ocials included with every ballot-by-mail kit providing step-by-step instructions. During a May 7 local election deter- mining two commissioner positions for Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11—which provides ser- vices in portions of Humble—the win- ner of the last at-large position won by 84 votes. Of the 2,784 mail-in ballots sent in the contest, 484 were rejected. Additional barriers Montgomery County Elections Administrator Suzie Harvey said the introduction of the new mail-in voting requirements has created challenges for older and disabled voters. Under SB 1, mail-in ballot corrections must be made in person or through the state’s online mail-in ballot tracker.
overseas can be cut o from making corrections to mail-in ballots if they cannot correct them on the state’s website. “You can’t come in and cure your ballot,” she said. “The only way you have to engage in voting is gone.” Taylor said state ocials have worked to address those concerns and many issues encountered during the March primaries have since improved. Searching for solutions Going into the Nov. 8 mid- term elections, Longoria said ocials are creating new proto- cols to keep the county’s mail-in ballot rejection rate from rising. “We’re getting better at calling folks and instructing them on how to come in and correct their mail ballots,” Longoria said, noting her team is implementing improvements to help election ocials track forms internally. In April, Longoria announced she was resigning from her posi- tion after ocials revealed 10,000 mail-in ballots were not entered on the March 3 primary election night. County ocials had not named Longoria’s replacement as of press time June 21. In Montgomery County, Harvey said the county will continue to include the informational inserts in mail-in ballot kits and train sta members to process ballots and assist voters more eciently. Heading into November, Taylor said the state is preparing a two- month campaign that will reach out to senior centers and senior liv- ing facilities to provide guidance to those who may be aected by the new mail-in ballot requirements. Renee Cross, senior director of the Hobby School of Public Aairs at The University of Houston, said while it is hard to determine whether mail-in ballots issues will persist, voter turnout during the March primaries suggest SB 1 may not lead to the voter suppression its opponents have feared. “I think in some ways, just the added attention of new laws [in the media] and the threat that it could suppress voting … actually had the opposite eect and made people turn out,” Cross said.
V O T E
Over the last 120 years, the state of Texas has approved a number of bills aecting voters’ rights and has also been impacted by a number of federal voting changes. VOTING LEGISLATION
The Texas poll tax is established, requiring otherwise eligible voters to pay between $1.50-$1.75 to register to vote.
The 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratied, prohibiting the use of poll taxes to vote in any federal election.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is signed into law, enforcing a previous ruling that voting rights cannot be denied by the U.S. or by any state on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.
Congress requires states, including Texas, that previously prevented citizens who did not speak English from voting by not providing election materials in their language to provide election and voting materials in Spanish.
SOMETIMES, WHEN OUR STAFF INTERACTS WITH THEM, THEY ARE SO FRUSTRATED THAT THEY JUST SAY THEY’RE NOT GOING TO VOTE ANYMORE. SUZIE HARVEY, MONTGOMERY COUNTY ELECTIONS ADMINISTRATOR
The Texas Legislature enacts Senate Bill 14 , requiring voters to present one of seven acceptable forms of identication to vote in person.
Texas approves Senate Bill 1 , a sweeping election reform bill that further tightens state election laws and constrains local control of elections by limiting counties’ ability to expand voting options. • Bans in-person drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting options, which were each implemented in Harris County in the 2020 presidential election • Adds new identication requirements for voting by mail • Limits the help voter assistants are able to provide for in-person voting • Makes proactively distributing mail ballot applications a state felony • Increases autonomy for poll watchers by allowing them “free movement,” requiring training before they are eligible to serve
“Some of [those voters] can’t do either of those, whether it’s because they’re conned to some type of medical facility or housebound, or are technologically challenged,” Har- vey said. “Sometimes, when our sta interacts with them, they are so frus- trated that they just say they’re not going to vote anymore.” Longoria cited similar concerns with Harris County residents using the state’s website. “If the state doesn’t have your cor- rect driver’s license or Social Security number on record—which is what they want you to correct—you cannot access the state’s website,” Longoria said. Additionally, Longoria said individ- uals in the military or residents living
For more information, visit communityimpact.com .
SOURCE: TEXAS HIGHER EDUCATION COORDINATING BOARDCOMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER
LAKE HOUSTON HUMBLE KINGWOOD EDITION • JUNE 2022
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