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Texas Will Allow Voters to Fix Erroneous Mail-In Ballots

Approximately 1 million Texans submitted their ballots by mail for the 2020 presidential election and about 8,000 of those were discounted for administrative errors. Now the state will allow voters to fix errors and track ballots online.

(TNS) — More than half a million Americans who voted by mail in 2020 had their ballots thrown out and never counted, mostly because of easy-to-fix mistakes. And in most states — including in Texas — voters never knew their ballots were rejected until it was too late to do anything about it.

But that changes in Texas on Thursday when new election laws go into effect that will require county officials to attempt to reach voters before their ballots are disqualified and give them a chance to fix them. In addition, voters will be able to track the status of their mail ballots online, so they can spot any problems early.

"It's a big win for people who vote by mail in Texas," said Remi Garza, the elections administrator for Cameron County and president of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators.

Nearly 1 million Texans voted by absentee ballot during the 2020 presidential election, a record. About 8,000 of those ballots ended up not being counted because of miscues such as signatures that were missing or did not appear to match, or voters failing to sign the outside of the envelope when they sent it in.

Nationwide, 560,000 absentee ballots — almost 1 percent — were rejected during the 2020 presidential election, according to a report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Almost 70 million Americans voted by mail during the election. That report showed that while Texas had 0.8 percent of its mail ballots tossed, states with a provision to allow voters to fix common mistakes had far fewer ballots rejected. For instance, in Florida and Arizona, just 0.3 percent of absentee ballots were disqualified.

Texas is now among 19 states that allow voters to fix mail-in ballots, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The first major test of those changes comes in just over a month when absentee ballots start to go out for the 2022 primary elections in Texas that will include the governor's race and every congressional race. By Jan. 15, absentee voting will be underway in Texas with in-person early voting starting on Feb. 14.

The changes are part of the massive elections bill the Texas Legislature passed in August after months of rancor between Republicans and Democrats.

Texas Lags In Mail Voting


Texas voting laws have been among the strictest in the nation for years, and restrictions on mail-voting tamped down that practice in the state even as it became twice as prevalent nationwide in the 2020 election. Mail-voting is only available to Texans under 65 if they are sick or disabled or are going to be out of their town during the election. People 65 and older can vote by mail without an excuse.

Nationally, mail ballots were used by 43 percent of voters in the 2020 elections, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2016, they were used by 21 percent of voters.

But in Texas, just 8.6 percent of voter turnout in 2020 was from mail-in ballots, according to the Election Assistance Commission report. Only three states had a lower percentage and other big states had vastly more. In New York, 20 percent of votes cast were on mail-in ballots. Florida had 41 percent and California reported 82 percent.

Much of the debate over the Texas elections bill that went into effect Thursday revolved around further restrictions on voting methods, including requirements that voters put a driver's license number or the last four digits of a Social Security number on future mail ballots. Provisions to end late-night voting and drive-thru voting also received much more attention and debate than those allowing mail-in ballots to be corrected.

State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R- Mineola, the prime author of the big elections bill, said the changes for curing ballot problems were important to try to make sure fewer votes ultimately get tossed out for mistakes that could easily be corrected — like a missing signature.

"There is a cure process for the first time in Texas, a way for you to fix those technical problems so that your mail ballot will count," Hughes said.

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D- Laredo, played a key part in that provision by adding an amendment that assures voters can correct other potential mistakes, such as failing to not include their driver's license or Social Security information.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R- Houston, credited disability rights groups for pushing for language to require an online portal that all voters can use to track their ballots and potentially fix errors they might arise.

"This is really going to be a big improvement," he said

Garza said details still need to be worked out to make sure absentee ballots can be fixed without a hitch. He said the new election law requires a signature verification board within the county to flag issues that voters might be able to fix. But Garza said in some counties that board meets just as in-person early voting ends, giving just a day or two for absentee ballots to get remedied before they are tallied.

In those types of cases, the only solution might end up being for a voter to cancel their absentee ballot, and try to vote in person on Election Day. He said it would be helpful if county officials can move sooner if they see a signature problem to give voters a better chance to fix errors days or even weeks before Election Day.

"We all want to make sure they can get the ballots fixed and their vote counted," Garza said.


(c)2021 the Houston Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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