This election saw more people voting by mail in Texas and across the country than any other election. Yet, despite hearing from national security experts and the office of the Texas Secretary of State that this election was completely secure, there is still the unfounded idea that voting by mail provides the “biggest opportunity for mischief” as Representative Clardy put it during a House Elections Committee hearing a few weeks ago.
In reality, instances of vote-by-mail fraud are negligible. After 22,200 staff hours from Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, there were only 16 minor voting offenses from the November 2020 election, out of over 11 million ballots that were cast statewide. They added 10 new staff to their existing team of 11 just to find 0.0001% instances of fraud.
So it makes no sense to further hinder systems that were secure and led to more people voting. Unfortunately that is not how some legislators see it.
TexPIRG is tracking bills for the 87th legislative session that would help and hinder our democracy. This week there are two vote-by-mail bills that are being heard in the House Elections Committee:
HB 1725 would eliminate the ability for voters to return their ballots by mail in person.
TexPIRG opposes this bill
These restrictions apply both to dropping off a ballot at an election office or a ballot drop box, meaning that the only option voters have to return their ballot is through the mail.
Budget constraints with the USPS caused delays in people receiving their ballot and concerns that they wouldn’t meet the deadline if they sent it back through the mail. In Texas, mail ballots need to be received by 5 PM the day after the election. In person delivery for absentee ballots allows voters the peace of mind that their vote was returned in time and will be counted.
Ballot drop boxes are safe and secure and have been used by states with widespread voting by mail without any issues for years. HB 1725 is trying to address a problem with ballot drop boxes that just doesn’t exist.
HB 1382 would implement a statewide tracking system for vote by mail applications and ballots.
TexPIRG supports this bill
A problem I heard over and over again from students during our New Voters Project was that they did not know where in the process their ballot was if they were at school and voting by mail in their hometown. They requested it, but didn’t receive it. They sent it in, but didn’t know if it had been received and accepted.
Currently there is no statewide ballot tracking option and no notification system if a ballot is rejected, leaving voters in the dark about if they successfully completed this fundamental democratic act. Voters deserve to know the status of their ballot and if there is an issue that needs to be “cured”.
This system already exists in Texas for military and overseas voters and in several counties. Keith Ingram, the Director of Elections with the Office of the Secretary of State testified that ballot tracking is a simple security measure that they can “easily add”.
Voting by mail is a safe and secure way to vote that helped lead to record breaking early voting turnout in Texas. However, as a panel of experts highlighted on our elections webinar, there are certain security measures that ensure that the system runs smoothly and eligible voters are not disenfranchised due to logistical errors. Adding ballot tracking with HB 1382 is a step in the right direction for our democracy while removing ballot drop boxes with HB 1725 sends us backwards.
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