With primary elections coming up on March 1 and early voting underway Feb. 14-25, ongoing statewide issues with mail ballot applications, a shortage of voter registration forms and inadequate preparation and implementation of the new voting laws threaten Texans’ freedom to vote.
Despite having had six months to implement the changes under Senate Bill 1, the sweeping election reforms bill passed last fall, it’s clear the Secretary of State’s office has failed to prepare for the March primaries.
Issues with mail ballot applications and other obstacles to voter access created by SB 1 transcend political parties, impacting all Texas voters, especially older Texans, veterans and the disability community.
Throughout 2021, disability advocates and self-advocates across the country have been railing against laws and proposals that would restrict voting for Americans with disabilities. The Lone Star State remains ground zero in many of these battles.
At the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, we worked bipartisanly to advocate for changes to the election law to improve voter access for Texans with disabilities, and against hindering our access to the polls.
Along with other disability groups and voter rights advocates, we worked with legislators to pass policies that allow voters to track their mail ballots and applications online, correct honest errors on their mail ballots and applications, and improve voter access for Texans with disabilities. We fought back and defeated onerous and unconstitutional portions of the bill that would have directly and negatively impacted disabled Texans.
Still, the new law creates barriers to voting for Texans with disabilities and other voters, and the implementation of the law has made a bad situation even worse.
Unfortunately, the Secretary’s office admitted only a few short weeks ago that it had not yet developed sufficient guidance for counties concerning the ID requirements. Guidance to local election officials first surfaced after 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 28 — barely two weeks before the start of early voting and while mail ballot applications are being processed. Many of them are being rejected. It’s clear from rejection rates of 25% in Midland County, 40% in Tom Green County and 50% in Hidalgo County, that this is an unacceptable though predictable barrier for eligible voters.
Failure to rectify these issues could silence the voices of Texans, including Texans with disabilities. Time is short, and swift action is required.
We urge the Texas Secretary of State to take the necessary steps to ensure the March primary elections run safely, securely and that the state does not jeopardize registered voters' access to the polls.
Non-profit organizations like CTD are working to inform our constituents how best to navigate these barriers and to ensure their votes are counted, but we cannot do this alone.
Local election officials also must have clear support and guidance from the state on consistent standards for implementing the new law.
SB 1 contained numerous changes to in-person and mail ballot voting. Clear guidance concerning the implementation of new requirements for voter assistance and polling place personnel, including poll watchers, is urgently needed. The problems voters are encountering thus far are not limited to voter registration or initial mail ballot applications and won’t simply fade away when voting gets underway this month. SB1 contains remedial provisions for mail-ballot return envelopes similar to those for mail-ballot applications, meaning the problems already bubbling up are likely to cause more problems for voters across our state. Action must be taken to clarify the process and support local election officials to conduct our elections.
Every Texan, including seniors, voters with disabilities and active-duty military and family members, must have their right to vote protected.
Election measures — including the newest Texas law — lose any semblance of integrity and voter access if they interfere with the reasonable, necessary and legally protected accommodations for voters with disabilities that have already been in place and working well. It’s clear that we need to make our voices heard. Make a plan to vote in the upcoming primary and general elections this year. Our democracy is counting on every one of us.