Lawmakers were warned of problem with mail-vote application. They screwed it up anyway

·3 min read
Nati Harnik/AP

The process of applying for a mail-in ballot is a mess. It’s entirely the Legislature’s fault. And lawmakers were warned it would happen.

We can’t say simply or strongly enough how badly the new Texas election-security law has screwed up the situation for thousands of Texans who want to vote absentee and are allowed to do so.

The law requires applicants to list either part of their Social Security number or their driver’s license number. For the application to be approved, the number must match whatever the applicant used to register to vote. But few remember which they used or even realize that it’s an issue. So, county election officials have no choice but to reject the application.

Mail ballot security is important. Fraud, while still rare, is much more likely in absentee balloting than in-person voting. But Republican lawmakers were warned of this exact problem when writing the law last year. Their only attempt to fix it — allowing the voter to try, try again — falls far short of the convenience that elderly and disabled voters deserve.

At one point this month, Tarrant County was rejecting 40% of applications over the issue, elections administrator Heider Garcia told county commissioners. That rate has improved since, but other large counties are having similar issues.

Garcia advises applicants to list both numbers to avoid the issue. Rejected applicants receive a letter and another application to send in. But the deadline to apply, Feb. 18, is fast approaching.

Some people registered under a driver’s license they no longer have, and they’ll have to take additional steps to “cure” their application. A small number will be affected, but this kind of hassle is the exact problem with so many election-security initiatives.

We’ll say again: Vote fraud is extremely rare. So is voter suppression. The heated debate around these issues, all the way up to President Joe Biden comparing his opponents to segregationists, is the result of incredibly close elections in which each side’s core voters are convinced that the other party is so unlikable that it wins only when it cheats.

The political irony in Texas and elsewhere is that the elderly, more likely to use absentee ballots, are an important Republican constituency. When GOP legislators make mail voting more difficult, they hurt their own efforts. And intentionally or not, they buy into the idea that higher turnout is automatically better for Democrats, when research — and election results such as in Virginia last year — show that’s not the case.

There’s an important distinction between how Texas handles mail voting and what some Western states do. California and others mail out actual ballots automatically to registered voters. Texas requires a vetted application to dispatch a ballot. Some conflate the two as a way to taint all mail-in voting, which isn’t fair to the millions of law-abiding Texans who rely on it.

Then there’s the issue of the difficulty of registering to vote in Texas. New registration is impossible online; the necessary form must be mailed to your county elections office. The secretary of state’s office is limiting the number of applications given to voter-registration groups because it can’t ensure an adequate paper supply. Really.

Individuals can print the form and mail it in, if they have the necessary computer equipment. And at least in this case, supply-chain issues have stung businesses and individuals in a number of unexpected ways.

The problem with mail-ballot applications? It was known, predicted and inadequately addressed. That’s your Legislature at work.

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