AUSTIN, Texas — As the March primaries approach, Texas's new, stricter voting rules have been causing confusion for both voters and election officials alike.
Last week, officials in some of Texas’s largest counties reported having to reject hundreds of vote by mail applications, due to ID requirements.
Under the new voting law, absentee voters must include their driver’s license, state ID number, or the last four digits of their social security number. If they don't have those IDs, they can indicate that on the form. Then election officials must match those numbers against what's already in the person's voter file.
Texas Secretary of State John Scott chalked the confusion up to a “learning curve."
“I think it’s a first time for voters, I think it’s a first time for election administrators, I think it’s a first time for this office,” said Scott during an interview on Capital Tonight. “But I think it’ll become as familiar as the old system was to folks.”
Travis County Elections Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said in a press conference Tuesday that she and other counties couldn't get help from the Secretary of State's office or an online ballot tracker when they noticed the issues.
"We can't live like this, we can't have this high rejection rate,” she said. “And they started telling us things like, 'oh just call us, we'll help you figure it out. Just look on tracker it's right there.' When in fact we couldn't get through to them and the tracker information is blank."
Scott said some of those issues came from a misunderstanding of the requirements by election administrators. He also added that his office has been meeting with officials, and after speaking to Travis County, the rejected ballots fell from 50% to 27%.
“Twenty-seven percent is still extremely high,” said Scott. “So, we’re still wanting to dig in out that to understand what specifically those issues are.”
This also comes as the Secretary of State's office said it's having to limit the amount of voter registration forms it hands out thanks to paper supply chain issues. New forms are necessary due to changes under the elections law.
“We have been working for a while with potential vendors to ensure that all counties have sufficient inventory of voter registration forms,” said the Secretary. “So, we believe we’ve done a pretty good job of securing those.” Scott also added that anyone can go online to get a voter registration form.
All the confusion has led to criticism by voting rights groups who say the rules are purposefully making it harder to vote. But Scott says his office is just following the law, and that the Legislature will have to decide if changes are necessary.
“This is all set out by statute. So, there’s not a lot of leeway on how it’s supposed to be interpreted or how it’s supposed to be done,” said Scott. “So, I think if there’s suggestions on how to fix [the system] in the next session, than those will be taken into consideration and done. I think it’s way too early to say if that’ll be a needed fix or not.”
The deadline to register to vote in the primaries is Jan. 31, and the deadline to register to vote by mail is Feb. 18.