Protecting voter access requires legislative action
Failure to improve new voter law puts voter access for Texans with disabilities and all Texans at risk.
By Dennis Borel and Chase Bearden, Coalition of Texans with Disabilities
Dennis Borel, Executive Director, and Chase Bearden, Deputy Executive Director, lead the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities (CTD). Founded in 1978, CTD is the largest and oldest member-driven cross-disability organization in Texas and is focused on advocacy, public awareness, and public policy.
The dust had barely settled on significant, controversial voting reforms passed in the fall of 2021 before Texas voters headed to the polls for the 2022 primary and general elections.
What was evident in the immediate aftermath of the 2022 elections was that there is still work to be done to address provisions in Texas’s newest laws which placed undue barriers or burdens on Texans with disabilities trying to cast their votes.
There were some bright spots. Texas lawmakers enacted several reforms last session that enhanced voter access while increasing election transparency, including online ballot tracking and a cure process for minor errors on mail ballot carrier envelopes. That’s the good news.
Unfortunately, far too many other issues with mail ballot applications and other obstacles to voter access created by SB 1 transcended political parties, impacting all Texas voters, especially older Texans, veterans and the disability community.
And with only six months to implement the sweeping changes to voter laws enacted under Senate Bill 1 in 2021, the state faltered on a smooth rollout of critical provisions of the new law.
At the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, we are proud of our reputation and bipartisan work to advocate at the Texas Capitol for changes to state law that would improve voter access for Texans with disabilities, not disenfranchise or challenge voters.
We fought back and defeated some of the most onerous and unconstitutional proposals debated last session. Now, it’s time to get to work and make common-sense adjustments and improvements to Texas’s voter laws to remove barriers to voting for Texans with disabilities and other voters.
SB 1 contained numerous changes to in-person and mail ballot voting, including new requirements for voter assistance, polling place personnel and poll watchers. The problems voters encountered last year are not limited to voter registration or initial mail ballot applications and ballot return envelopes. We are hopeful that state lawmakers will be thoughtful and thorough in making needed adjustments.
Texas now offers a process by which county election officials can notify mail ballot voters of minor errors and allow them to correct the error to have their ballot counted.
Lawmakers can and should make adjustments to ensure all eligible voters have access statewide. Let’s make the process mandatory, not discretionary, to deliver uniformity and consistency to voters across Texas.
The newly created online ballot tracking system creates far greater transparency concerning the status of each ballot in the application and voting process. Election officials should also have the resources available to develop a robust and reliable online tracking system that allows minor issues with ID numbers on carrier envelopes to be cured online by voters. These changes are significant for the disability community.
Accurate, publicly-available information about this ballot tracking and cure process is limited, and in the absence of good and thorough information, disinformation spreads.
Simply put, election measures - including the newest Texas laws – shouldn’t interfere with reasonable, necessary and legally protected accommodations for voters with disabilities.
Texas must also work with the disability community to develop and implement specific procedures and technologies we need. These could include accessible vote-by-mail ballots, provided upon request, in formats that allow voters with visual impairments to cast a secret, independent and verifiable ballot without the assistance of another person.
Every Texan, including seniors, voters with disabilities, or active-duty military and family members, must have their right to vote protected.
Let’s take time this session to get it right and get it done. Texas voters are counting on it.