Blaming the problem on the election reform law passed by the Texas legislature last year, during a Wednesday press conference Hidalgo said the percentage of rejected applications proved the need for the federal legislation to govern elections.
“What we are seeing in Texas should be a warning sign, a call to action, and a wake-up call to those in Washington who say they support free elections,” said Hidalgo.
Under the new state law known as Senate Bill (SB) 1, applicants for ballots by mail must provide a Texas driver’s license number, Texas Personal Identification number, or the last four digits of their Social Security number to prove identity.
Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said most of the problematic applications were due to failure to include the identification numbers or not providing correct numbers or those that match voter registrations.
SB 1 prohibits county elections officials from sending out unsolicited mail ballot applications, but political parties and candidates may do so. Longoria suggested that some of these providers may be printing and distributing old forms.
“I can say definitively the increase we are seeing is as a direct result and consequence of the passage of SB 1,” said Longoria, who has requested a federal judge to allow her to send the unsolicited mail ballot applications.
Noting that her employees were working to contact applicants with problematic applications to resolve issues, Longoria suggested that other counties may not attempt to resolve applications that do not meet the new identification standards.
In 2020 the Texas Secretary of State referred allegations of mail ballot harvesting in Harris County to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office for further investigation, but a recent Court of Criminal Appeals ruling has cast doubts on the authority of the attorney general to prosecute election fraud.
Harris County is one of four counties subject to a full audit of the November 2020 elections, and the first phase of the audit found 3,063 potential non-citizens on the county’s voter rolls.
Longoria lamented that her office would no longer be able to conduct drive-thru voting under the new law. She also said the county would be printing voter registration forms after the secretary of state warned it would limit the distribution of forms due to a supply-chain-induced paper shortage.
Calling the confusion over the identification requirements a form of voter “suppression,” Hidalgo also said the Texas system had been “designed to err on the side of rejecting a valid voters’ application.”
Democrats in the U.S. Senate have been pushing for passage of the “Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act” which would require all states to implement mail voting for all, online, automatic, and same-day voter registration, and water-down voter identification requirements. The federal legislation has been stymied by the Senate’s filibuster rules, and a proposal to change the rules failed Wednesday evening.
During the press conference both Hidalgo and county Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 1) invoked Martin Luther King Jr. in calling for passage of the federal legislation.
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that in the year 2022 we are seeing the vestiges of Jim Crow once more… 50 years after the assassination of Doctor King,” said Hidalgo.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also drew attention to the potential rejection rate for mail ballot applications at a press conference Wednesday with the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C.
Last week, Travis County announced they were rejecting half of all mail ballot applications, but after working with the Texas Secretary of State’s office, the percentage was reduced to 27 percent. Other counties around the state are also reporting higher rejection rates under the new standards.
Mail ballot application forms are available at the secretary of state’s website. Under state law, only voters who are 65 years or older, sick or disabled, out of the county during the early voting period and election day, or incarcerated but eligible may use mail ballots. Applications must be turned in by February 14 to obtain a mail ballot for the March 1 primary election.
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Holly Hansen is a reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.