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Later in this midterm election year, voters in 19 states will head to the polls with new, more restrictive voting laws on the books. One of those states is Texas, where the party primaries are just a few weeks away. Some voters and election workers say one provision in the new law in the Lone Star State is already causing confusion. Geoff Bennett reports.
Later in this midterm election year, voters in 19 states will head to the polls with new more restrictive voting laws on the books.
One of those states is Texas, where the party primaries are just a few weeks away. Some voters and election workers say one provision in the new law in the Lone Star State is already causing confusion.
Geoff Bennett has our report.
In Texas, election workers are reporting that hundreds of applications for mail-in ballots are being rejected, one of the early effects of the state's new Republican-backed voting law.
It requires that voters provide either a partial Social Security number or a driver's license number on their ballot application. And that number has to match what's on their original voter registration. The problem is, most people don't remember what form of I.D. they initially provided, especially older voters who registered decades ago.
And that's not the only thing causing confusion, says Jessica Huseman, editorial director of Votebeat.
Jessica Huseman, Editorial Director, Votebeat:
People aren't used to filling out the new forms, and they fill them out incorrectly.
And then there was also a problem where the voter roll in Texas is missing some information from voters. So, if they write down the incorrect number that is missing by accident or because they don't know which one is in the system or that one is missing, then their registration will be automatically rejected.
A problem, she says, which could have been prevented.
We pointed this problem out initially in July of last year, which was well before this law passed. And so there was an opportunity for Texas lawmakers to address the issue.
James Slattery, with the Texas Civil Rights Project, warned members of the Texas House in testimony last summer.
James Slattery, Texas Civil Rights Project:
It is easy to see the needless chaos and mass disenfranchisement that requiring this matching process will create.
Slattery sees it as another barrier to the ballot.
Texas is already the hardest state to vote in, in the entire country, and this just turbocharges how hard it will be.
These new vote-by-mail requirements, though, will particularly impact certain groups of Texans, because only certain groups of Texans right now even have the right to vote by mail. So, in particular, people who are 65 and older have the right to vote by mail in Texas, and use it in large numbers.
So do people who are disabled, and so are people who are temporarily away from home during the voting period.
Is this voter suppression by design, or is this just benign negligence on the part of lawmakers, who failed to heed warnings from folks like yourself?
It's hard not to see this as a feature, rather than a bug.
There is, I think, an element of bureaucratic malpractice here too, just because the state's election infrastructure is so underfunded already, that, when you put a new 76-page bill on top of it, it's going to be bad regardless.
Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX):
Election integrity is now law.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
In September, Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed a slew of voting restrictions into law, one of many efforts in Republican-controlled states to enact new limits, after former President Donald Trump pushed the debunked myth of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
The U.S. Justice Department has since sued Texas over the law, arguing that it disenfranchises voters. Texas Republican lawmakers say the voting law, known as S.B.1, is aimed at increasing public trust in state elections.
State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-TX):
Senate Bill 1 makes it easy to vote and hard to cheat.
We tried to speak with Texas state Senator Bryan Hughes and state Rep. Andrew Murr, who wrote the legislation, but both Republicans denied our interview requests.
It's not just voters who are frustrated by this new process. It's also election workers who are frustrated that they can't help voters fix their applications, because the law now prohibits them from doing so.
Absolutely. And I think we have seen that pretty open annoyance by the local clerks office with the Texas Secretary of State's Office over this issue.
Dana DeBeauvoir is the Travis County Clerk. She's served in county government for 40 years.
Dana Debeauvoir, Travis County, Texas, Clerk:
In so many ways, we can't even practice free speech with voters. You can't call them back to cure a problem with their application or their ballot, because that's seen as promoting by-mail voting, when all we really want to do is figure out what their new correct identification number should be.
Just to be passively helpful with voters, we shouldn't be so hamstrung in that sense.
A violation carries a mandatory minimum of six months imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.
This is voter suppression. So, I'm very concerned about our democracy. I'm concerned about why the legislature wanted to stop all voters, including their own Republican voters, from voting by mail.
Across the state, from Houston to San Antonio to Austin, the law has caused a spike in rejections in mail ballot applications.
Travis County, home to Austin, normally rejects 1 percent to 2 percent of ballot applications. Currently, officials say it's about 6 percent to 7 percent. In Harris County, which includes Houston, about a third of rejected applications were tossed because of I.D. problems.
I have never missed a vote.
That includes this 95-year-old World War II veteran, who says his mail-in ballot application has been denied twice due to new requirements.
There's just no point in taking a fully qualified, eligible voter and rejecting them. Or maybe we really do know what the point is, and that is to suppress them.
What should voters do in the meantime?
Well, you have asked a very good question, because I can't tell voters directly what to do to cure their by-mail ballot, because that is seen as promoting by-mail voting, and I am in danger of a state jail felony.
Now, what other people, friends, the media, everybody else can and is saying, the cure for that kind of a problem is to include both numbers on the application, the last four digits of your Social Security number and your driver's license number. You heard that from everybody except me, the election official.
She's urging those affected by the new mail ballot application process to not let it stop them from voting.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Geoff Bennett.
Watch the Full Episode
Geoff Bennett serves as co-anchor of PBS NewsHour. He also serves as an NBC News and MSNBC political contributor.
Matt Loffman is the PBS NewsHour's Deputy Senior Politics Producer
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