Going into 2021, Texas was ranked at the very bottom for voting rights efforts, so we were surprised to see the Legislature pass a few small pro-voter reforms. Unfortunately, the good news stops there — in 2021 Texas also passed a number of anti-voter bills, including SB 1, which had significant detrimental impact on eligible voters in the state. In 2022, we saw the impact of SB 1 where one in eight mail ballots were rejected and voters experienced significant confusion with the new rules. Taking into account the minimal progress made in combination with the negative impacts of SB 1 and other anti-voter measures, Texas received a D- on this year’s progress report.
Where Texas Started in 2020
- Automatic Voter Registration: No
- Online Voter Registration: No
- Same-Day Registration: No
- Restoration of Rights: Parole and/or Probation Disenfranchisement
- Vote by Mail: Excuse-Only
- Electronic Registration Information Center Member: Yes
- Early Voting Opportunities: Regular Ballot Early Voting
- ID Requirements: Photo ID Requested
Relying on the Cost of Voting Index for Texas as of 2020, we considered the state a bottom tier state for pre-existing voting policy and compared its 2021-22 activity against other bottom tier states.
How Our Tier Compares:
2021: Two Years Ago
During the 2021 regular session, the Texas Legislature managed to pass a few small pro-voter reforms while also continuing to enact unnecessary barriers to voting. Unfortunately, there were also a number of anti-voter measures that passed.
- S 331 expands voters’ access to interpreters and allows voters to use interpreters to help with reading and marking their ballot.
- H 1382 requires the secretary of state to create an online ballot tracking system for voters to check on their vote-by-mail applications and ballots.
- H 3107 relaxes existing rules around temporary voting locations for most counties, extends the mail ballot application deadline for in-person returns by one week, and expands election judge training, among other things.
- H 574 makes it a felony to intentionally count invalid votes or fail to count valid votes.
- H 2283 restricts private funding in elections. It required local election officials to get prior approval from their local political subdivision or the secretary of state before accepting funds and required the secretary of state to equitably distribute any funds it received based on county population.
- S 1111 tightens residency requirements for Texas voters and allows clerks to request additional residency proof from certain voters.
- S 1113 allows the secretary of state to withhold funding from local registrars for failing to perform required voter list maintenance tasks.
- H 3920 narrows the definition of the “disability” excuse for vote by mail applications.
During the second special session, the legislature enacted sweeping detrimental changes to election laws through SB 1 that touched on almost every aspect of the voting process. Though many aspects of the bill further suppressed Texas voters, there were a few minor pro-voter initiatives included.
- SB 1 adds new requirements to the vote-by-mail process that requires voters to include their Texas driver’s license, state ID, or voter ID number on both their mail ballot application and ballot. Applications and/or ballots with numbers that do not match the ID number on file are rejected and voters will not be issued an application or have their ballot counted if they do not cure the problem.
- SB 1 subjects election administrators to new criminal penalties for minor errors on the job.
- SB 1 prohibits outdoor and drive-thru polling locations, tools that counties had previously used to make voting more accessible for voters.
- SB 1 restricts the hours that early voting may be offered.
- SB 1 requires voter assistants to complete additional paperwork when assisting voters and subjects the assistants to possible criminal penalties for any errors.
- SB 1 greatly expands poll watchers access to the voting process and subjects election administrators to new criminal penalties for attempting to remove disruptive poll watchers.
- SB 1 severely restricts election administrators’ abilities to tailor election practices and procedures to the needs of their local communities.
- SB 1 requires election administrators to investigate and purge voters from the rolls based on unreliable data and potentially false matches to existing voter records. The secretary of state can also enact financial and criminal penalties against the administrators for any perceived list maintenance errors.
- SB 1 increases the minimum number of early voting hours. In major elections, most counties must have at least 6 hours on the last Sunday of early voting, one more than current law. It also adds an extra hour of early voting in smaller elections as well.
- SB 1 streamlined address updates. Voters who return list maintenance notices indicating that they have moved from their voter registration address will automatically have their address updated to their new residence.
- SB 1 gives voters a way to cure minor mail ballot errors. Voters whose mail ballots are rejected for a technical defect (such as a missing signature, a mismatched signature, etc.) will be contacted by elections officials and be given a chance to fix the issue.
- At the start of the 2020 legislative session, Governor Abbott named “election integrity” as one of his top emergency priorities for the legislature. Unfortunately, rather than addressing his state’s onerous barriers to voter registration and voter access, Abbott made matters worse by signing SB 1 into law which needlessly complicated the voting process for voters and election administrators.
- The secretary of state settled a long running lawsuit brought by voters who were denied the opportunity to register to vote while renewing their driver’s licenses online with DPS. As a result of this settlement, civil servants at DPS and secretary of state integrated voter registration into online driver licensing transactions. As a result, DPS registered or updated the registration of more than a million Texans in less than a year after rolling out the system. These secure online registrations reduce paperwork for elections officials and help keep the voter rolls up to date.
2022: This Past Year
The Texas Legislature meets biennially during odd-numbered years, therefore it did not meet this year.
- In the first election run under the new rules put in place by SB 1, Texans’ mail-in ballots were rejected at an extraordinarily high rate: approximately one in eight mail ballots were thrown out, about twelve times the rate in prior elections. Many county election administrators were forced to increase staffing for their mail ballot and call center teams, increase public awareness campaigns, and make changes to mail ballot forms and envelopes to help voters provide new information required by SB 1.