Texas Should Enact Common Sense Reforms to Modernize Election Systems and Maximize Voter Freedom

by Voting Rights Lab

June 23, 2021

Texas has an opportunity to upgrade its election process to provide eligible voters increased freedom in how they register, vote, and assure their vote is counted while also supporting the integrity of Texas elections by providing uniform and consistent access for voters in all jurisdictions. Texas should (1) adopt a statewide cure process to ensure that ballots aren’t thrown away for minor errors; (2) make permanent the very successful early voting extension it adopted in 2020; (3) join the rest of the country in allowing voters to register online; and (4) recognize photo IDs issued by state schools, tribes, and agencies as valid for voting purposes.

Texas Should Adopt a Uniform Statewide System to Allow Eligible Voters to Correct Minor Errors Identified by Election Officials

Many Texas voters who are eligible to cast a mail ballot are older, living with a disability, or temporarily located elsewhere serving in our nation’s military. Those voters deserve the same confidence that their vote is counted as voters who cast their ballot in person. Texas can give them this confidence and maintain faith in elections by ensuring that voters are notified of, and given a chance to fix, problems with their mail ballot envelopes.

Texas is among the shrinking number of states that do not notify voters of issues with their ballots and provide them an opportunity to fix the issue. As a result thousands of Texas votes are thrown away each election. Texas absentee ballots are rejected at twice the rate as in-person ballots. Texas military personnel and elderly voters deserve better. 

Texas can address this problem by joining the growing number of states across the country that have a uniform, statewide cure process. A cure process ensures that  voters are notified of, and given an opportunity to fix, issues with their absentee ballots, so these ballots are not thrown away for minor errors.

Thirty states had uniform statewide cure processes in place for the last election, including states like Florida, Kansas, and Ohio. And courts in Indiana, North Carolina, and North Dakota have all recently held that due process requires that states provide voters with notice and meaningful opportunity to fix issues with their absentee ballots.

Texas Should Make the Extension of the Early Voting Period that was Overwhelmingly Popular with Voters in 2020 Permanent

Texas is the national champion of early voting and should not surrender the belt. Building on the statewide trend of increased early voting in the last several elections, more Texans voted early in the November 2020 election than in the entire November 2016 election. Texas voters, like those nationwide, overwhelmingly support the freedom of having a substantial period in which they can select a time to vote. Every eligible Texas voter should have the opportunity to vote at a time and location convenient to their family, work, and other responsibilities. Texas lawmakers should increase early voting access for all voters to provide Texans with additional confidence in the fairness and of the election process.

In states that track voter registration by party, early voting usage is popular among voters of both parties. In Florida, over 500,000 more registered Republicans voted early in-person in 2020 than registered Democrats.[1] In Nevada, registered Republicans made up approximately 43% of the early in-person vote, whereas registered Democrats made up 29%.[2] In North Carolina, both registered Democratic and Republican voters formed a higher percentage of the early voting population than their respective percentage shares of overall registered voters (unaffiliated voters constituted a smaller share of early voters).[3]

During the 2020 general election, Texas provided voters an additional week to vote early. Over 4 million Texans cast their vote in that unprecedented first week of early voting. Voter participation shot up in counties big and small. Additionally, the extra week provided election officials more time to integrate new processes and equipment to reduce their Election Day workload and ensure that all votes were being counted accurately. Texas should act based on the evidence from that election and make that additional week of early voting a permanent feature of its election system.

Texas geography is as diverse as its voters. All Texas voters should have an opportunity to select a convenient time to cast their ballots. Local election officials should have sufficient flexibility to provide those opportunities in a way that’s fair to all voters and doesn’t break the bank. Depending on the needs of their voters, local officials should be able to vary dates and times of voting at certain locations during the early voting period while ensuring that voting remains available throughout the entire early voting period and affording busy Texans the opportunity to vote during the evening or on weekends to allow them to coordinate voting with other responsibilities. When placing early voting locations, election officials should be mindful of traffic and public transportation considerations in more populous areas while also ensuring that voters in less populous areas don’t have to drive too far for a convenient place to vote early.

Eligible Individuals Should Have a Centralized, Secure, and Uniform System to Register to Vote Online

While Texas business and industry have earned a national reputation for technological innovation, the state’s voter registration system remains woefully behind the rest of the country.Texas is one of only nine states that does not provide its eligible citizens the opportunity to register to vote through a secure online portal. Voters in states that provide online registration enjoy the freedom of registering at a time convenient for them instead of traveling to a location where registration is available and standing in line. Election officials gain transparency in a standardized, statewide process that can be centrally managed by the Secretary of State.

An online voter registration system for Texas should be secure and made available to voters on the websites of the Secretary of State, Department of Public Safety, and counties. The system should allow an eligible individual to provide their Texas driver’s license or state ID number for identification, complete the registration form online, and submit the form for approval. The system should also allow currently registered voters to securely and conveniently update their information to address any voter list maintenance issues that would prevent them from casting their ballot.[4] The Secretary of State should coordinate with the Department of Public Safety to transmit the digitized signature of each approved registration applicant on file with DPS to the Secretary to be included in the voter’s registration record.

Election Officials Should Accept Additional Trustworthy Forms of Photo ID

Many of the 20 states that require a photo ID to vote accept in-state student IDs, IDs from in-state federally-recognized tribes, and IDs issued by state agencies. Florida, for example, accepts a student photo ID, a public assistance photo ID, and an employee photo ID issued by a local, state, or federal government agency. Iowa accepts a student or tribal photo ID. Expanding the list of acceptable forms of photo identification increases options for eligible voters without compromising legislative measures designed to ensure election integrity.

Texas should expand the list of acceptable photo identification for voters to include student IDs, tribal IDs, and government-issued IDs that contain the same information for verifying a voter’s identity as those forms of photo identification currently accepted. Adding forms of acceptable photo identification would decrease the number of voters submitting a non-photographic alternative ID along with additional paperwork[5] for officials to process.

[1] Vote-by-Mail Request & Early Voting Statistics, Fla. Div. of Elections; available at https://countyballotfiles.floridados.gov/VoteByMailEarlyVotingReports/PublicStats

[2] Early Voting Turnout, Nevada Secretary of State; available at https://www.nvsos.gov/sos/elections/voters/election-turnout-statistics

[3] Morril, J. More than 4.5 million have cast ballots as N.C. sees ‘unprecedented levels’ of voting, McClatchy (Nov. 1, 2020); available at https://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/election/article246729451.html

[4] One Texan had to fly home from college in California to vote after his registration was accidentally flagged by election officials in 2018. Barragan, J. & Cobler P., “23-year-old Texan flies home from California to cast his ballot as voter turnout surges”, Dallas Morning News (Oct. 20. 2020), available at https://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/2020/10/20/texas-college-student-flies-home-from-california-to-cast-his-ballot-as-voter-turnout-surges/

[5] Voters who cannot present an acceptable form of photo ID may supply one of a list of approved non-photo ID documents if they can execute a declaration, under penalty of perjury, that they have a reasonable impediment to meeting the photo ID requirement. Tex. Elec. Code § 63.001(i)