Texas’ new voting system was put to the test during recent statewide primaries, and it’s tough to be satisfied with the results. An analysis by The Associated Press found that the Lone Star State, thanks to Republican-imposed restrictions, threw out mail-in votes “at an abnormally high rate.”
Republicans promised new layers of voting rules would make it “easier to vote and harder to cheat.” But the final numbers recorded by AP lay bare the glaring gulf between that objective and the obstacles, frustration and tens of thousands of uncounted votes resulting from tighter restrictions and rushed implementation.
Election experts told the AP it’s unusual for 2 percent of ballots to be rejected in any given election. During Texas’ recent primaries, however, roughly 13 percent of mail ballots “were discarded and uncounted across 187 counties.”
Charles Stewart III, director of the Election Data and Science Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, added, “My first reaction is ‘yikes.’”
For those who might need a refresher, let’s review how we arrived at this unfortunate and avoidable point.
As we’ve discussed, there were no meaningful problems with Texas’ system of elections in 2020. Turnout was strong, despite the pandemic, and there were no questions about the integrity of the state’s results.
But Big Lie advocates nevertheless got to work on an ambitious voter-suppression package that banned drive-through voting, prohibited voting in overnight hours, empowered partisan poll watchers, and made it a felony in Texas for election officials to send unsolicited mail-in ballot applications to voters.
What’s more, the same anti-voting package created a new ID requirement for those who want to cast absentee ballots through the mail.
To be sure, the preliminary hurdle imposed by the system is flawed and unnecessary: Only Texans who are 65 or older automatically qualify for a mail-in ballot. But Republican policymakers in the state added an additional hurdle by forcing seniors to add a new identification number — typically a driver’s license number, or the last four digits of their Social Security number — which was never before considered necessary.
The result was a predictable mess: Eligible Texans tried to cast their ballots the same way they had before, only to have their ballots rejected because of restrictions that were imposed for no good reason.
The Washington Post recently spoke to a 76-year-old retired educator from Katy, Tex., who said, “It feels like people were just sitting up late at night thinking up ways to discourage people from voting.”
Looking ahead, there’s no reason to expect a fix anytime soon. On the contrary, the point of the GOP’s anti-voting law was to produce outcomes like these. The Associated Press’ report added that the rate of rejection for mail-in ballots was higher in counties that lean Democratic (15.1 percent) than Republican (9.1 percent), which is in keeping with the motivation behind the larger endeavor.
It’s not as if GOP policymakers in the state will see the Associated Press report and say, “What have we done? Quick, let’s put things right to protect voting rights.”
It’s far more likely that Texas Republicans will pat themselves on the back.
Postscript: In case this isn’t obvious, had Republican-appointed justices on the U.S. Supreme Court left the Voting Rights Act intact, Texas’ voting restrictions wouldn’t exist right now. What’s more, if senators were able to vote up or down on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, federal officials would be able to intervene in Texas, but a GOP filibuster is blocking action on the issue.