Returned ballots and concern in Texas begin first primary of 2022 – WSB-TV Channel 2

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AUSTIN, Texas — (AP) — Texas began early voting Monday in the first primary of 2022 following a hasty rollout of tougher restrictions and the return of hundreds of mail-in ballots, offering Republicans an awkward start to the voting rules they have tightened in the United States over the past year in the name of election security.

“Monday will be a great day for all of us to see how this goes,” said Isabel Longoria, the election administrator for Harris County, which includes Houston and more than 2 million voters.

“I think for all of us, there’s just a sense of uncertainty,” she said.

Election officials in Republican-leaning counties have also expressed frustration — and confusion — over changes they say have been rushing to implement since Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed sweeping legislation in September that, according to him, would make it “easier to vote and harder to cheat”. .” For hundreds of Texas voters whose absentee ballots and ballot applications have been rejected in recent weeks, that is not the case.

Harris County election officials announced just days before in-person voting that 40% of ballots received so far had already been returned, mostly because they did not include proper IDs and signatures now required by Texas law.

Texas is among at least 18 states that will hold elections this year with increased restrictions – a consequence of former President Donald Trump’s repeated false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Republicans dismissed Democrats’ protests that the changes would disenfranchise voters, especially minorities.

But Texas had far less time than any other state to complete the job of changing the way the election was run due to its particularly early primary on March 1 – two months before the next states, Indiana and Ohio, do not go to the polls in May.

How well the Texas primaries go in the coming weeks will be as closely watched as the actual races, few of which get high profile. For Republicans, Abbott is heavily favored over a series of far-right challengers in his campaign for a third term, but Attorney General Ken Paxton is facing a tougher primary under the cloud of an FBI investigation.

Democrat Beto O’Rourke has a nearly clear path for his party’s gubernatorial nomination. One of the biggest races in South Texas, where U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar’s Democrat is in a rematch against a progressive challenger, Jessica Cisneros, weeks after FBI agents searched her home.

This is the first primary for new Texas Secretary of State John Scott, appointed by Abbott, who in an interview described returned ballots and nominations as voters adjusting to the new rules.

He expects the May runoffs and November elections to run more smoothly, and said he does not believe the problems so far and the concerns expressed by local officials amount to state failure.

“I don’t know how much extra time – I don’t mean it wouldn’t have been helpful, because it would have been helpful,” Scott said. “But I don’t know if more time solves that problem, because it’s a new process. And I think the new processes, especially for voters who were used to the old process, that’s absolutely a point friction.”

But the problems extended beyond voters facing new demands. When the League of Women Voters requested thousands of voter registration applications for new US citizens last month, the state said it could not meet the demand due to paper shortages in supply chain after the new law required forms to be updated and reprinted.

Then county election offices reported having to return an unusually high number of mail-in ballot requests for not including required identification such as a driver’s license or Social Security number. Now counties say they are returning completed ballots for the same reason.

Voters have the opportunity to correct the ballot as long as it is returned on Election Day, which has left officials waiting to see how many return.

Scott said the number of rejected mail-in ballot applications has fallen to less than 5% this month.

He took the job as Texas Chief Electoral Officer after serving in previous roles under Abbott, but his appointment raised alarm among voting rights groups during his brief stint with Trump’s legal team. who challenged the 2020 election results. Scott backed out of the case after just days and said he does not dispute President Joe Biden winning the election.

Outside San Antonio, Kendall County Elections Administrator Staci Decker said mail-in ballot requests are at an all-time low ahead of the primary in her Republican-majority county that voted for Trump by a margin of 3 to 1 in 2020.

The mostly rural county has for years maintained a list of about 400 voters who receive mail-in ballot applications. But Texas Republicans this year added a ban on government officials proactively sending out mail-in ballots, under threat of felony charges and six months in prison.

Late Friday night, a federal judge issued a narrow order that prevented the state from enforcing that part of the law around Houston and Austin. But the order did not affect 251 of Texas’ 254 counties, including Kendall.

“We had 400 people waiting for their applications to come in and they never did,” Decker said. She said her office sent about 500 ballots to voters this year, compared to the 700 to 900 they normally send out.

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Coronado is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.

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