HOUSTON — Standing outside a polling location in the historically Black neighborhood of Kashmere Gardens on Election Day, lieutenant governor candidate Carla Brailey predicted that Texas’ performance in 2022’s first primary would gain national attention — no matter the outcome.
Texas is already a model for other Republican-controlled states for its new law that makes it much tougher to vote for many elderly, low-income and non-white citizens, said Brailey, who went on to lose in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
“I call it a pilot study of what’s to come in terms of moving this nation backwards,” she said. “This is not forward movement, what we’re seeing in Texas. Not at all, and it’s heartbreaking.”
Across Texas on Tuesday, voters suffered from longer than expected lines due to poll worker shortages and technical difficulties with voting machines, advocates who monitored Election Day polling reported.
While there weren’t multiple-hour lines like voters experienced in 2020, voters and voting advocates still expressed concerns that the problems are just a taste of what Texas will see in the general election in November due to the restrictive voting law passed by Texas’ Republican-controlled legislature last year.
According to Gabrielle Velasco, the national coordinator for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law’s Election Protection program, a shortage of poll workers on Tuesday delayed polling place openings and reduced availability in Dallas and Tarrant counties. Broken or malfunctioning polling machines hampered voting in Harris and Hays counties.
In Houston, Velasco said voters reported late polling place openings, malfunctioning voting machines, and very long lines. Election Protection is also continuing to hear from Houston voters who sent in absentee ballots that were rejected due to a data mismatch under the state’s new election law.
“Texas was already the hardest state to vote in before Republicans passed these laws that made it even harder,” Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, said in a statement. “What we’re seeing today is a small preview of what we can expect to see at a far wider scale in November unless the federal government finally takes real action to intervene.”
It’s also a preview of what other states can expect as they hold their primary elections. According to an analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice, Texas is just one of 19 states that have enacted laws since the 2020 election that make it harder for people to cast ballots.
In May, 12 states will hold their primary contests, including Georgia, which passed a similarly restrictive voting law in 2021.
“If I were living in another state, one of the states that passed a similarly sprawling election rewrite, I would be looking at [Texas] and think, ‘This chaos and confusion and disenfranchisement is coming my way in just a few months,’” said James Slattery, a senior staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project.
Struggles with ID requirement
Part of Texas’ new law was a strict ID requirement for mail ballots that required voters to put their driver’s license number or partial Social Security number on the envelope of their mail ballot application and their ballot. Many voters struggled to match this number to the number the state has on file with their voter registration.
The law caused thousands of ballots to be rejected across the state, including roughly 30 percent of mail ballots in Harris County, the state’s most populous, as of just a few days before the election.
Joe Breda, an election judge and business owner from Humble, Texas, said he fears that lawmakers in other states will draw the wrong conclusion from the mess.
“I worry that the takeaway they get is going to be that it worked,” he said. “That it actually restricted voting the way they wanted to restrict it.”
Other states are considering similar requirements.
Republican lawmakers in Florida want to pass a law requiring voters to put an ID number on their mail-in ballots. The ID number, which could be a driver’s license number, Social Security number, or state ID number, would have to match whatever the voter has on file with the election supervisor’s office.
Election officials testified in Florida that older voters who registered decades ago don’t have any ID number on file, so the new law would be incredibly confusing and lead to rejected ballots.
Republican lawmakers in Iowa are also advancing a bill that would require voters to put their driver’s license number or voter ID number on the inner envelope for their absentee ballot in addition to on the ballot request form.
If the voter forgets to put the ID number on the “affidavit” envelope, they will be given an opportunity to correct the issue, but Democrats argue the absentee voting period is too short and voters will miss the window.
They also contend the so-called security measure isn’t necessary and will just confuse and disenfranchise voters.
In North Carolina, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill in 2021 (Senate Bill 326) that would have placed new limitations on voting by mail, but Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the measure.
How voters see it
Jose Rivera, a voter at the West Gray Multi-Services Center in Houston, said Texas is just one of many states where GOP lawmakers are concerned about the population growing less white and more diverse, which has driven lawmakers’ efforts to restrict voting.
Nosa Edebor, a yoga teacher voting in Kashmere Gardens, agreed. “It’s a reflection of the political climate right now, and I think a lot of conservatives are seeing how power shifts to young people and a lot of minorities,” said Edebor.
Instead of replicating Texas’ confusing and restrictive laws, voters said they hope other states will decide to not make the same mistakes.
“I would hope that the states look at the lack of voting that we have in Texas, because we’re a non-voting state,” Breda said. “A significant portion of the population of Texas that can vote doesn’t vote, and it doesn’t vote because it’s either excluded or it’s just hard. I would hope that states look at that and say we can do better.”
The takeaway from this primary could go either way, Brailey said.
“Texas is big,” she said. “It can have an impact on big goodness and big badness. It’s big and people watch it.”
[Editor’s note: Click here to check out the outcomes of the Texas primary.]