Republicans Accused of Voter Purge in Multiple States

By James Bickerton

US News Reporter

Republican officials in Ohio and Virginia have sparked controversy by removing thousands of voters from their state’s electoral roles ahead of elections in November, with one campaigner accusing the GOP in Virginia of a “direct attempt to blatantly disenfranchise voters.”

In Ohio, 26,000 voter registrations deemed inactive by Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose were removed ahead of a crunch vote seeking to enshrine abortion access in the state’s constitution. It came after LaRose wrote to local boards of elections in June, instructing them to terminate the registrations of voters who had been inactive over the past four years.

Those removed hadn’t voted since May 2019 and failed to respond to letters from local authorities asking them to confirm their voter status. LaRose said this was done carefully to avoid disenfranchising genuine voters and said 12 people had replied to letters sent out stating they still want to be registered in Ohio.

He commented: “The last thing we want to do is unnecessarily remove someone from the voter rolls, and that’s why we’re so careful about this.”

The process was challenged by Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, who accused LaRose of “using a hatchet.” Speaking to The Columbus Dispatch, she said: “They get two notices in the mail that are written in arcane legalese and often don’t make sense to voters.

“So this process is just incredibly ineffective. It’s like using a hatchet rather than a surgical blade to make sure that we’re only removing those individuals who have passed away or moved out of state.”

Democratic state Representative Bride Rose Sweeney has written to LaRose demanding clarity over the disenfranchising process.

In a statement sent to Newsweek, LaRose said: “When it comes to maintaining our voter rolls, we don’t quietly ‘purge’ active voters. We remove inactive registrations after we’ve learned a voter has moved and not been active at the address for more than four years. That’s been the federal law for three decades, and it’s essential to keeping out rolls honest by eliminating duplicate registrations.”

Separately, Democrats in Virginia are calling for a Department of Justice investigation after thousands of voters were mistakenly removed from electoral rolls. On Friday, officials working for Governor Glenn Youngkin admitted 3,400 voters had been taken off the rolls due to a computer software error.

However, not everybody buys this explanation. Nick Gothard, the election protection manager of the Virginia Civic Engagement Table nonprofit, told The Hill that the move was a “direct attempt to blatantly disenfranchise voters.”

He added: “These incidents, occurring in such close proximity to election day, raise serious questions about ongoing voter suppression tactics and efforts to subvert public trust in Virginia’s secure and fair elections.”

On Monday, Virgina’s two Democratic senators and six House representatives wrote to the Department of Justice urging “immediate action” to investigate why the voters were removed.

The Virginia elections department said it is “worked diligently [with State Police] to review and check each canceled record to ensure all impacted voters are reinstated.”

Newsweek reached out to Governor Youngkin for comment via email.

It comes amidst growing concern over alleged voter suppression across the United States. Speaking to Newsweek, David Bateman, an expert in democratic institutions at Cornell University, attributed this primarily to Republicans.

“Voter suppression tactics have become increasingly common in recent decades, especially now that the Voting Rights Act has been eviscerated by the Supreme Court,” Bateman said. “The Republican party is, by far, the most active culprit here, and have made voter disenfranchisement a central component of their political campaign strategies.

“There are a few very straightforward reasons for this. The Democratic party traditionally relied heavily on mobilizing working-class voters. Higher barriers to voting disproportionately affect working-class people. As a result, Republicans look to suppress voting, and Democrats look to expand it,” he said.

Bateman said this has not been a particularly effective tactic.

“The one piece of good news is that, to date, most voter suppression efforts have been relatively ineffective,” he said. “Again, there’s a few reasons for that. The voters these target are not likely to turn out in the first place. The forms of suppression can be countered by organizing, including voter registration drives and legal challenges.

“This is a resource drain for Democrats and voting rights organizations, so it’s still costly even if there isn’t a clear effect at the polls. And the forms voter suppression has taken to date are limited by state and federal jurisprudence.”

Faith in election integrity among some Republicans has been undermined by Donald Trump‘s repeated claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him by voter fraud. This claim has been repeatedly rejected in court and by independent election and legal experts.

Update 11/2/23, 11:56 a.m. ET: This story has been updated with comment from Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

Virginia admits thousands of voters wrongly purged days before election

Voting rights groups decry error days before elections that will determine which party controls the state legislature

Virginia election officials wrongly removed almost 3,400 eligible voters from the state’s voter rolls, a significant error that has caused alarm among voting rights groups just days before critical state elections that will determine which party controls the state legislature.

Officials announced the number of voters affected by the purge on Friday – more than 10 times the number of people they had initially said were affected. Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for the governor, Glenn Youngkin, had told the Washington Post on 6 October that at least 270 people had been wrongly removed and that officials didn’t expect that number to rise much. Officials declined to provide updates on the number affected until Friday, when they announced that the actual number was “nearly 3,400” (they did not provide an exact figure). VPM, Virginia’s NPR affiliate, first reported on the issue in September.

All of the people who were removed had a prior felony conviction but had had their rights restored by the governor. Virginia has long stripped anyone convicted of a felony of their voting rights and is one of three states that gives the governor the sole authority to restore them. Nearly 102,000 people can’t vote in Virginia because of a felony conviction, according to an estimate by the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice non-profit. Nearly two-thirds of those are on probation.

Earlier this year, Virginia announced it had identified 10,558 people who had had their rights restored but had subsequently committed a new felony. That data wasn’t accurate. The Virginia state police, which had been supplying the data to the state, had been wrongly flagging people as having committed a new felony if they had received a technical violation of their probation – something like failing to show up for a meeting or failing a urine test.

Tonya Jones, 59, lives in Highland Springs, near Richmond, the state capitol. On 1 September, the local registrar sent her a letter saying she had been removed from the rolls because of a new felony conviction. Jones thought the letter was a “trick” because she had been regularly voting since getting her rights restored in 2019 and had even served jury duty. She had been convicted of a drug-possession felony in 2017 or 2018, but completed drug court and hadn’t had any new convictions.

When early voting began this fall, she tried to cast a ballot and was told her name wasn’t on the rolls. “I was very upset because I knew that my rights were restored,” she said. “My life is turned around and I’m like, ‘What in the world are they talking about?’”

She called two of the numbers that were on the notice she had received. She couldn’t get through to anyone at the first number, she said, and the second person advised her to start the process of getting her voting rights restored again. She said she finally spoke with someone at the state police who said she had been wrongfully removed and helped her get back on the rolls.

A young white or Latino family, wearing winter coats and no hats, with two young kids at an indoor voting station with a cement floor.
Officials said on Friday that more than 10 times the number of people they had initially said were affected had been removed from the voting rolls. Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA

Galen Baughman, who was convicted of a sex-related offense as a teenager and has become a well-known activist on issues around sex offenders, was also affected. He had his voting rights restored by then governor Ralph Northam in May of 2021 and had been voting ever since. When he showed up to vote in Virginia’s primaries earlier this year, he found out he had been removed from the rolls.

“I know that people have been literally put in handcuffs for trying to vote. I’ve had enough handcuffs in my life – I didn’t want to have that experience again,” he said.

Baughman followed up with the local registrar, who informed him that he had been removed because records showed he had committed a new felony, according to a letter Baughman provided to the Guardian. The “new felony” actually was a probation violation for being kicked out of a treatment program, according to court documents and an official criminal history record. He eventually went to court and got a judge to order the registrar to restore him to the rolls.

Virginia’s department of elections said on Friday that nearly all those affected had been reinstated and were receiving notification. Voting rights groups, who have spent weeks pressing the state for more information, are concerned there will still be confusion and want assurances there aren’t more affected voters.

“If you are somebody who has had their rights restored and you’re unsure whether you’ve been affected or not, there’s just such [a] chilling effect,” said Tram Nguyen, the co-executive director of New Virginia Majority, a non-profit civic engagement group.

Democratic members from Virginia’s congressional delegation called on the justice department to investigate the matter. A justice department spokesperson declined to comment on the request. Porter, the governor’s spokesperson, referred questions to the Virginia department of elections, which did not respond to a request for comment. Youngkin has asked Virginia’s inspector general to investigate the issue.

“We really have no way to know if 3,400 is accurate,” said Shawn Weneta, a policy and advocacy strategist at the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The administration still is refusing to be transparent with voters about how it happened.”

It’s also unclear what information the state is providing to voters to explain the issue. Weneta provided a letter to the Guardian that was sent to one person who was wrongly removed that informed him he was newly registered to vote with no explanation of why he had been removed.

A typewritten piece of white paper folded in threes, with a few chunks blacked out.
A new voter registration notice from the Virginia department of elections. Composite: Anonymous

Making sure those affected receive a thorough explanation is critical. When someone is removed, they typically receive a letter from election officials informing them of the reason they’re being removed. Even though Virginia has same-day registration, people who show up at the polls and find out they have been purged might not have all the information they need to register on the spot, said Sheba Williams, who runs Nolef Turns, a group that advocates for people with felony convictions.

“The reality is we are now eight days away from an election and many of these voters likely received a letter from their registrar … saying that their voting rights had been revoked,” Aaron Mukerjee, an attorney who is leading voter-protection efforts for the Democratic party of Virginia, said on Monday. “This is all a bit too late. The deadline for requesting an absentee ballot has already passed. The deadline to register without having to do same-day registration has already passed.”

Ohio purged 26,000 voters days before abortion referendum deadline

Voting rights groups say move by Republican secretary of state lacked transparency and did not follow established practice

Ohio’s Republican secretary of state quietly canceled the voter registrations of more than 26,000 voters in late September, less than two weeks before the deadline to register to vote in next week’s hotly contested abortion referendum in the state.

Voting rights advocates say the process lacked transparency and departed from Frank LaRose’s usual practice of alerting groups before removing registrations from the rolls. And it comes as LaRose campaigns hard against the 7 November constitutional amendment vote – when Ohio voters will decide whether to enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution – as well as a vote on a separate measure to legalize marijuana.

“We are disappointed in the secretary of state’s office’s authorization of the voter purge while voting for the November election was already (and still is) under way,” Kayla Griffin, of the voting rights group All Voting is Local, said.

Voter list maintenance is a standard, legally required part of the election process, and many if not most of these registrations are for people who have moved away, died or long since stopped voting. The state issues alerts by mail to voters whose registration is flagged for removal, leaving the chance to update or confirm their registration before being kicked off the rolls.

But it’s unusual to remove voter registrations this close to an election given the risk of disenfranchising people who intend to vote but simply missed the memo that they had been flagged for removal. In fact, if this was a national election rather than a state-level contest, what LaRose’s office has done would have been illegal. The National Voter Registration Act prohibits elections offices from systematically removing voters from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election.

Typically, voter removals in Ohio are scheduled in the summer to afford voters who are affected plenty of time to re-register. This time, the deadline to remove voters from the rolls came on 28 September, nearly a week after military and overseas absentee voting began on 22 September. LaRose had postponed the process before an 8 August special election to change the constitution. But the new date landed smack-dab in the middle of this current election fight.

Voting rights advocates also say the office did not follow its established – although not obligatory – practice of alerting voting rights groups ahead of the purge. The office would typically give “the entire list to groups like ours so that we could, one, make sure the list was accurate and two, contact voters”, said Jen Miller, executive director of Ohio’s League of Women Voters.

“As far as I know, no unit has been reached out to,” said Tom Roberts, the president of the Ohio Conference NAACP and a former Democratic state senator. Instead, Roberts said he found out about the removal of nearly 27,000 voters on 26 October, a month after county offices were required to adjust their voter rolls.

Bride Rose Sweeney, a Democratic state representative, questioned the timing of the voter purge in a 20 October letter to LaRose, writing that “now that our reproductive rights, our very lives, are on the November ballot, you have rushed to purge voters” and asked the secretary of state to “undo this bad decision and restore them to the rolls since voting is already underway for this 7 November election”.

In a response letter, Paul Disantis, the chief legal counsel of the secretary of state, strongly rejected the implication that the timing of the purge was improper, noting that the National Voter Registration Act called for regular list maintenance and argued the purge was “not a choice; it’s longstanding federal law”. To maintain the rolls, elections boards use data from the National Change of Address database; the maintenance is intended to keep information about registered voters up-to-date in the system. “This process is also essential to ensuring the integrity and accuracy of Ohio’s elections,” wrote Disantis.

In an email to the Guardian, a spokesperson for LaRose’s office wrote that the office typically only conducts outreach when removing inactive voters using the state’s supplemental, controversial “use-it-or-lose-it” process which targets voters who have not cast a ballot in two years.

Voting rights groups said that was not accurate – and that LaRose’s past outreach had addressed both kinds of list maintenance. They also pointed out that there was no legal requirement to schedule the purge before the election; the office could have waited until after votes had been cast.

“We’d like to think that when the voter rolls are cleaned up, it’s the folks who’ve moved, it’s the folks who passed away, but unfortunately, other folks end up getting picked up and purged sometimes by accident,” said Catherine Turcer, director of Common Cause Ohio. In 2019, Ohio came close to accidentally removing nearly 18,000 active voters from the rolls; 10,000 of them ended up casting ballots in the 2020 election.

Voter purges also often disproportionately affect voters of color: one study using data from a Wisconsin election found Black voters may be removed from the rolls in error more than twice as often as white voters.

The election is the culmination of a months-long effort by abortion rights groups, including Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights and Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom, which introduced language for the ballot initiative in February. It’s the latest in a series of efforts by abortion rights advocates to use statewide referendums to protect access in states where Republican-controlled legislatures pushed to restrict it. They have been largely successful: Voters even in conservative states like Kansas and Montana have passed referendums protecting abortion access.

But Republicans, conservative groups and activists in Ohio, including LaRose, have fought to prevent its passage – and sought to change the rules to make it harder for voters to change the state constitution in the first place. In May, Republicans in the state legislature introduced a bill that threatened to make it much harder to pass a constitutional amendment by requiring more than 60% of the vote to pass an initiative, rather than a simple majority – an effort explicitly designed to undercut the abortion referendum.

LaRose, who is also running for a US Senate seat and is looking to endear himself with conservative voters, was a prominent supporter of that failed campaign.

“This is 100% about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution,” LaRose said in June. “The left wants to jam it in there this coming November.”

In a special election on 8 August, Ohio voters rejected the proposal by 57% to 43%, a lopsided result in the Republican-leaning state.

LaRose came under fire again in August, when the secretary of state drafted ballot language proponents of the reproductive rights amendment called misleading. Rather than referring to a “fetus”, as the ballot previously had, the new ballot used the term “unborn child”. Polls suggest that the abortion rights referendum is expected to pass by similar margins to which the August referendum was defeated – but that the wording LaRose approved for the ballot could narrow that margin.

In January, Ohio passed a wide-reaching law that restricts voting access by tightening voter ID requirements, allowing less time for voters to return absentee ballots, and reducing the early voting period. In the 8 August election, voting rights groups observed an uptick in rejected ballots and confusion among poll workers who perpetuated misinformation about the new law. Voters whose registrations were removed during the September cleanup of the rolls can cast provisional ballots at their polling place or at the board of elections.

The last-minute removal of more than 26,000 voter registrations and the numerous recent changes to voting requirements, Turcer says, “can become really problematic” for voters.

“All of these little things combined create a situation where there are more obstacles to voters,” she warned.

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New Report – A Look at Trends in Battleground States

The Voter Purge Project Identifies Major Issues, Key Trends in Battleground States

New Orleans, LA — On October 18, the Voter Purge Project (VPP) released its second major report identifying significant issues and key trends in battleground states prior to the November 2022 General Election. Following their 2020 report, Unnecessary Disenfranchisement, the VPP team tasked their unique database management system to compare year-over changes in voter registration data for the report The Voter Purge Project: A Look at Trends in Battleground States

As the November General Election nears the question of wrongful voter purges maintains urgency. Looking at eight battleground states, the Voter Purge Project finds that states are still quick to purge voters, the number of new undeclared voters is growing at a faster rate than new registrations with either party, growth in the number of young voters lags behind the growth in the 18-24 y.o. population, and known voter suppression efforts appear to be effective in some states. 

Since its convening, the Voter Purge Project has been analyzing changes in voter lists from nearly 30 states with an increasing understanding of how voters get removed from state voter rolls. “Our unique knowledge of the way voter files are kept and maintained by states allows a level of precision in comparing change in voter rolls over time,” says Wade Rathke. “This analysis helped identify over 60,000 newly registered ‘inactive’ voters in battleground states that are in jeopardy of being unfairly removed from the rolls.”

Given the availability of data from different states, the new VPP report highlights trends in the types of voters experiencing unnecessary disenfranchisement and the continued need for state election authorities to address issues with their voter rolls. 

 

The Voter Purge Project protects eligible voters against disenfranchisement by monitoring, reporting on, and organizing against wrongful voter purging.

From The Washington Post – Mark Meadows was simultaneously registered to vote in three states

By Glenn Kessler, Staff writer

Friday, April 22, 2022 at 3:00 a.m. EDT

What Mark Meadows said about mail-in voter fraud in 2020

“I don’t want my vote or anyone else’s to be disenfranchised. … Do you realize how inaccurate the voter rolls are, with people just moving around? … Anytime you move, you’ll change your driver’s license, but you don’t call up and say, ‘Hey, by the way, I’m re-registering.’”

— Mark Meadows, then White House chief of staff, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Aug. 16, 2020

After Donald Trump lost the presidential election, falsely claiming election fraud, Meadows became senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), which promotes “election integrity” efforts. The organization’s “citizen’s guide” urges activists to determine that the registrations of their neighbors are legal by checking on “whether voters have moved, or if the registrations are PO Boxes, commercial addresses or vacant lots” and then “obtaining evidence: photos of commercial buildings? Vacant lots?” and “securing affidavits from current residents that a registered voter has moved.”Advertisement

Voter-list maintenance is one of the dividing lines in American politics. Republicans argue that if voter-registration records are not regularly purged and updated, election fraud can take place. Democrats push back that too many voter-list purges are conducted haphazardly, removing eligible voters who don’t learn they are no longer listed until they show up to vote.

Now it turns out that until last week, Meadows was simultaneously registered to vote in three different states — North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina — according to state records obtained by The Fact Checker.

The overlap lasted about three weeks, and it might have continued if revelations about Meadows’s voting record had not attracted scrutiny in North Carolina. Meadows is still registered in Virginia and South Carolina.Advertisement

This is the latest in a series of revelations about election-related behavior by Meadows that appear to contradict his and his party’s rhetoric on election integrity.

Meadows, in fact, was the keynote speaker at a CPI Election Integrity Summit in Atlanta on Feb. 19. “What you’re doing is investing in the future of our country and making sure only legal votes count,” Meadows told attendees. He said he had just gotten off the phone with Trump, who he said had told him: “We cannot give up on election integrity.”

About three weeks after that speech, the New Yorker reported that Meadows had registered to vote at a home where he did not reside. Meadows and his wife, Debra, had submitted voter registration forms that listed as their residential address a 14-by-62-foot mobile home in Macon County, N.C., with a rusted metal roof that sold for $105,000 in 2021, even though they did not actually own it or live there. He then voted in the 2020 election via absentee ballot.Advertisement

North Carolina officials announced last month that, as a result, Mark Meadows is under investigation for potential voter fraud. On April 11, his voter registration was removed by Macon County officials, the North Carolina State Board of Elections said last week.

The state cited the fact that Meadows had voted in Virginia during the 2021 gubernatorial election that elected a Republican, Glenn Youngkin. Meadows and his wife had registered to vote in the state in September, his and her voter registration applications show, even though they were still registered in North Carolina.

About two weeks after publication of the New Yorker article, Meadows registered to vote in South Carolina, state election records show. In July 2021, Meadows had purchased a three-story waterfront home of more than 6,000 square feet in South Carolina for nearly $1.6 million. But until this year, he also owned a townhouse in Alexandria that he had purchased in 2017.Advertisement

It is not unusual for some overlap in voter rolls as people move across state lines, and many people do not bother to terminate their voting registration when they move. In contrast to Meadows, however, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo canceled his voter registration in Kansas just a few months after selling his home in Wichita and moving to McLean when he became CIA director.

South Carolina and Virginia are members of the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit that provides member states with reports on voters. If Meadows had listed his Virginia voter registration while registering in South Carolina, the state would have notified Virginia. Angie Maniglia Turner, Alexandria’s general registrar and director of elections, said Thursday that there has been no change in the voter registration status in Virginia of either Mark or Debra Meadows.

Ben Williamson, a spokesman for Mark Meadows, declined to comment.Advertisement

At the time Meadows registered to vote in North Carolina in 2020, using the mobile home address, he no longer owned a home in the state. In March 2020, Meadows sold, for $370,000, a house in Sapphire, N.C., that his mother had lived in. Meadows’s mother, Mary Gail Garwood, had lived at and voted from the Sapphire property in 2012, 2014 and 2016. She then registered to vote in Georgia on Sept. 12, 2018. Meadows listed the property for sale the next day. Garwood did not respond to a message left for her at the retirement community where she now resides.

Meadows, as of 2018, had been registered to vote from the Sapphire property.

Gerry Cohen, a North Carolina election official, said that under state law, it was okay for Meadows to use his mother’s property for his voter registration if he stayed there at least one or two nights a year. In fact, he said that under a little-known provision of state law, Meadows could have continued to use the Sapphire address for voting even after he had sold the property because he was engaged in “government service” in D.C. The law says the last address in the state “at the time of that person’s removal [from North Carolina] shall be considered and held to be the place of residence.”Advertisement

Thus, Meadows would not have needed to register to vote six months later using the address of the mobile home. The same courtesy, however, would not have been extended to his wife because she was not in government service. Voter registration records show Debra Meadows was also registered in three states at the same time.

North Carolina initially did not take action to remove Debra Meadows from the voting rolls at the same time as her husband. But state records now show her voter registration was ended by Macon County officials as well. “The Macon County Board of Elections administratively removed the N.C. voter registration of Debra Meadows under N.C.G.S. § 163-57(6) on April 21, upon receipt of documentation that shows she registered to vote and voted in Virginia during the 2021 election,” said Patrick Gannon, a spokesman for the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

Debra Meadows did not respond to a message sent to her email address at Right Women PAC, where she is executive director, or to a text message.

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Texas counties reject unprecedented numbers of mail ballots ahead of March 1 primary under restrictive new law

By Amy Gardner

Washington Post February 11, 2022

A restrictive new voting law in Texas has sown confusion and erected hurdles for those casting ballots in the state’s March 1 primary, with election administrators rejecting early batches ofmail ballots at historic rates and voters uncertain about whether they will be able to participate.

In recent days,thousands ofballots have been rejected because voters did not meet a new requirement to provide an identification number inside the return envelope.

In Harris County, the state’s most populous county and home to Houston, election officials said Friday that 40 percent of roughly 3,600returned ballots so far have lacked the identification number required under Senate Bill 1, as the new law is known. In Williamson County, a populous northern suburb of Austin, the rejection rate has been about 25 percent in the first few days that ballots have come in, the top election official there said.

“Twenty-five percent of mail ballots from the starting blocks is a big deal for our county,” said Chris Davis, Williamson County’s elections chief. “We’ve never seen it before. And yes, our hope is that we can get these voters to correct the defects in a timely fashion. But what if they don’t, because three months ago they didn’t have to? There’s a learning curve. There are going to be possibly painful lessons that their vote doesn’t count because they weren’t aware.”

All the officials said that the sample size is small at this early stage and that the rate of rejected ballotscould improve as more arrive. Jennifer Anderson, the elections chief in Hays County, southwest of Austin, said her staff had rejected 25 percent of the first small batch of returned ballots — but by Friday morning, the rate had dropped to 4 percent.

“It seems like our outreach is working,” she said.

Still, the defect rate so far is alarming election administrators, voting advocates and some voters as primary day quickly approaches and many thousands more ballots are still to be returned. The rejection rates provide an early opportunity to assess the impact of Senate Bill 1, one of dozens of restrictive voting laws enacted by Republicans across the country last year amid an avalanche of false claims, many from former president Donald Trump, that the 2020 presidential race was tainted by widespread fraud.

State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R), a leading proponent of Senate Bill 1, said in a text message that “Texans deserve to have confidence in the electoral system.” The new law ensures that, Cain said, by creating uniform voting hours across the state, expanding access for those who need assistance and enhancing transparency with provisions that protect the rights of partisan poll watchers.

“I’m confident that local election officials will prioritize assisting voters through the process instead of gaslighting to gin up fear and confusion,” Cain said.

In addition to adding identification requirements, the wide-reaching law imposes new penalties for anyone who registers to vote or casts a ballot but is not eligible to do so. It also empowers partisan poll watchers by imposing penalties on poll workers who impede their ability to observe the voting process, among other changes.

A federal judge delivered a narrow defeat to one part of the law on Friday. U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez ruled that in Harris County and in the Austin area, the state can’t enforce a provision forbidding public officials to encourage voters to vote by mail, the Associated Press reported. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a message.

The rejection of mail ballots is not the first challenge that Senate Bill 1 has presented, and election officials — who are nonpartisan in Texas — fear it won’t be the last. In January, counties also began rejecting a high percentage of mail ballot applications, which now require the same identification numbers as the ballots themselves. The law requires voters to provide either a Texas state identification number, typically from their driver’s license, or the last four digits of their Social Security number. The number they provide must match the identification number on file with their registration record.

Many counties are experiencing significant application rejection rates; in Harris, the figure is 35 percent to date, officials said.

In Texas, mail-in voting is open only to those who are over 65, will be away from home on Election Day or have a disability that prevents them from voting in person. Mail voting has for decades been the province of Republicans, who developed robust outreach programs and in many states championed legislation allowing the practice. In 2020, however, when Trump criticized mail balloting as an opportunity for fraud, many GOP voters began shunning the practice.

“It feels like people were just sitting up late at night thinking up ways to discourage people from voting,” said Jo Nell Yarbrough, a 76-year-old retired educator from Katy, Tex., west of Houston, who received a letter early this week from her local election office informing her that she had neglected to include an identification number on her application for a mail ballot.

Yarbrough sent out the application a second time and said she is optimistic that she’ll get the ballot in time to vote and mail it back again — and she is also willing to vote in person if necessary, once early voting begins Monday. But Yarbrough, a Democrat, said she fears that others might not be so persistent.

“It’s just making another hurdle for people,” she said. “And many people are going to give up and say, ‘I don’t feel like doing this or that.’ Not that it’s not worth it, but when you get older, you don’t want hassles.”

The GOP-controlled Texas legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) enacted Senate Bill 1 in early September after Democrats tried unsuccessfullyto halt the bill bydenying Republicans a quorum in the House for months.The law went into effect in December despite entreaties from county election officials to give them more time to educate their staffs and voters. Lawmakers also denied local officials’ requests to push back the primary date.

As a result, election administrators have been scrambling to understand the new rules, procure new materials such as ballot requests and voter registration forms required under the law — and teach the public how it will affect them. They have relied on guidance from the secretary of state’s office, which in some cases has taken months to develop.

That fueled the confusion about how to process mail-in ballot applications, said Remi Garza, the elections chief in Cameron County, at the state’s southern tip.

“There was a lot of information that had not been distributed to all the 254 counties in Texas, so different administrators had different levels of information with respect to how you could process these applications,” said Garza, who leads the Texas Association of Elections Administrators.

That delay also contributed to a shortage of voter-registration cards as organizers with groups such as the League of Women Voters were unsure whether they could use their stockpiles of old cards or would have to wait to receive new forms from the state. The new form explains Senate Bill 1′s increased penalties for anyone providing false information on their voter registration application.

State officials told League organizers that they would not be able to provide the tens of thousands of registration cards they normally supply because of a nationwide paper shortage and rising costs.

Nancy Kral, an officer with the Houston chapter of the League of Women Voters, said the state’s top election official, Keith Ingram, told her during a telephone call that the state was not going to continue “subsidizing” the League’s registration efforts. The League provides voter registration cards to every participant in naturalization ceremonies in Houston — about 45,000 applications since June 2020.

A spokesman for the office of the secretary of state did not immediately respond to a request for comment on that exchange. But the spokesman, Sam Taylor, said the office has tried to inform election officials about all the changes. “Our office has been working as quickly and diligently as possible within a compressed time frame to provide guidance to both election officials and voters on changes to the voting process in Texas,” he said in an email. “Our goal from day one has always been to make sure that all eligible Texas voters can successfully cast a ballot, and that remains our goal going forward.”

Officials finally gave guidance — in either late December or early January, according to Taylor — that the old registration cards would be accepted this year. The deadline to register in time to vote in the primary was Jan. 31.Officials also provided more forms after the League threatened to sue under the National Voter Registration Act, which requires states to provide voter registration forms to third-party groups.

The new law is the target of multiple ongoinglawsuits, including one filed by the League of Women Voters, arguing that it violates the law by restricting voting access.

Kral has been disheartened by the hurdles Senate Bill 1 has erected — as well as the tone it seems to have set, she said. “It’s just so complicated and confusing,” she said. “There’s a perception that the confusion is not only in the name of election integrity but also about influencing who feels comfortable voting. I don’t think they’d admit to that, but that’s the message I’m receiving. They’re bullying.”

The late guidance from the state, as well as the paper crunch, has created stress for election officials, too. Garza, in Cameron County, described having to wait for instructions on the new mail-ballot envelope requirements before he could place his order. The new identification requirements necessitated an envelope redesign that includes a large privacy flap to cover the box where voters must provide their identification number.

Garza said his envelopes had still not arrived last week, when counties were supposed to begin mailing ballots to eligible voters. So on Saturday, he sent three of his staff members on a four-hour road trip to San Antonio, where a local printer had the envelopes in stock.

“We put them in the mail on Monday, and through the cooperation of our local postmaster, the voters began to receive them in their mailboxes today,” Garza said Wednesday. “That’s at least a week and a half later than we would have liked.” And it gives voters that much less time to fix any errors or omissions on their ballots, he added.

Several election administrators said they are optimistic that the rejection rate for both ballots and ballot applications will continue to decline as more come in — and as they get the word out to the public about the new rules.

But they are braced for another source of confusion, which is Senate Bill 1′s new penalty for poll workers who impede the ability of partisan poll watchers to observe voting locations on Election Day.

Davis, the top elections official in Williamson County, said the law has had a chilling effect on his ability to recruit poll workers, who have told him they worry that any effort to maintain order or protect voter privacy could be construed as a violation. But he also said he is optimistic that new mandatory training for poll watchers and poll workers will clarify what is acceptable behavior and what is not.

“Poll watchers are not our enemy — at least they’re not supposed to be our enemy,” Davis said. “The problem up until now is that in a poll watcher’s quest to see irregularities, they may not have had a terribly firm grasp on the ‘regular’ — how things are supposed to run in a polling place.” The training should improve that, he said.

Cain, the Republican lawmaker, said the new law “has ample protections for partisan election judges in dealing with disruptive election observers.”

Several election administrators said clashes between watchers and workers will be less likely on March 1, because it is a primary election. The real test of the new poll watcher rules will come in the general election in November, they said.

That’s just fine with Garza, who believes that voters — and election administrators — have enough to get used to right now.

“Elections are robust,” Garza said. “But they’re also very delicate. People need to mindful of how much things have changed since the last election. That’s what’s keeping me up at night.”