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Voters protest in Austin

Demonstrators protest outside the Texas State Capitol during a voting rights rally on July 8, 2021 in Austin. (Photo: Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images)

Groups Warn Texas Voting Rights 'In Jeopardy' as GOP Law Wreaks Havoc

"Confusion was always the point," one voting rights advocate said of the Republican law. "This was never actually about making sure that we can have free and fair elections."

Jake Johnson

With early voting underway in the 2022 Texas primaries, civil rights advocates warned Monday that ballot access in the state is under grave threat thanks in large part to the GOP's draconian voter suppression law, which is already throwing the election process into chaos.

Known as Senate Bill 1, the Republican-authored law implemented a slew of changes to Texas' already restrictive voting rules, including new voter ID requirements for mail-in ballots, a ban on drive-thru voting, and limits on counties' ability to expand voting options.

"The difficulties voters in Texas are experiencing right now were predictable when state leaders voted on Senate Bill 1."

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 1 into law in September, prompting swift legal action from civil rights organizations and the Biden Justice Department. Critics argue the measure will disproportionately impact the poor, the elderly, people with disabilities, and people of color.

While parts of Senate Bill 1 have been temporarily blocked in the courts, much of the law is now in effect—and the results have been nightmarish, according to news reports, advocates on the ground, and Texas election administrators.

"Officials across the state are reporting higher-than-usual defect rates for mail-ballot applications," The Daily Beast reported Monday. "Last month, officials in Travis County said they were rejecting about half of the mail-in ballot applications they received... while 325 applications were rejected in Bexar County for failing to provide an ID number or providing one that was not on file."

"Texas voters are entitled to correct their mail-in voting applications or ballots if there's an error," the outlet noted. "But elections administrators say the process for alerting voters to errors lacks uniformity from county to county, largely depending on a county's budget and resources."

James Slattery, senior staff attorney for the Voting Rights Program at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said in a statement Monday that "the difficulties voters in Texas are experiencing right now were predictable when state leaders voted on Senate Bill 1—and we said as much to the Legislature last summer."

"Voters are confused, and we are concerned about the impact that this will have over the next two weeks and into the midterms in November," said Slattery.

The Texas Civil Rights Project was among the 30 organizations that sent a letter Monday demanding that Texas' Republican Secretary of State John Scott take steps to better educate voters about the rule changes under the new GOP law so as to minimize its disruptive impact, which could be huge given Texas' size.

The coalition warned in a press release that Scott's "poor handling of the state's new anti-voter laws" thus far "leaves Texans' freedom to vote in jeopardy during the 2022 primary election."

In their letter, the groups noted that Scott's previous work representing former President Donald Trump in his effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election doesn't exactly inspire confidence that he will ensure a fair voting process in the ongoing and upcoming elections.

"The effects of your apparent neglect in the last few months are now being felt by Texas voters across the state," the groups wrote of Scott's brief tenure as Texas' secretary of state. "Your office failed to provide adequate and timely guidance to counties about how to handle a number of the new rules, such as the new requirement to provide an ID or Social Security number on mail ballot materials or the curing process when the numbers provided do not 'identify' the voter. Your office rolled out a new mail ballot tracker website only in mid-January, without any attempt to educate voters about the new system."

"Incredibly," the groups continued, "your office even initially failed to secure enough paper to print voter registration forms and announced that you would ration applications in the weeks before the registration deadline. This was a seismic blunder that threatened many thousands of eligible voters, and which you worked to fix only after a massive public outcry."

Some critics have argued that the confusion and disarray stemming from the new GOP law in Texas is by design, not an unintended consequence.

"Confusion was always the point," Charlie Bonner, communications director for the voting rights group MOVE Texas, told The Daily Beast on Monday. "This was never actually about making sure that we can have free and fair elections. That was never the intention."

With the U.S. Congress unable to pass federal voting rights legislation due to the opposition of a pair of right-wing Democratic senators and every Republican, GOP-controlled legislatures in dozens of states are pursuing voter suppression measures similar to those currently wreaking havoc in Texas.

As of January 14, according to the latest tally from the Brennan Center for Justice, "legis­lat­ors in at least 27 states have intro­duced, pre-filed, or carried over 250 bills with restrict­ive provi­sions."

"Like many of the bills restrict­ing voting access," the Brennan Center noted, "these bills are justi­fied by the myth of wide­spread voter fraud and a stolen elec­tion."

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