Lots of states make it as easy as possible to register and vote, whether there’s a pandemic or not. Texas is not one of those states.
by Ross Ramsey, Texas Tribune
If the folks in charge wanted everybody in Texas to vote, they would remove every real and imagined obstacle to voting.
They do not. They are not.
That makes perverse sense: It’s unreasonable to expect elected officials to change the system that got them elected. If you’re winning a game every time, you probably don’t want to change the rules. Unless, that is, you see a threat to your continued dominance. If you’ve been winning elections year in and year out, why would you want to change the complexion of the electorate by inviting new people whose loyalties haven’t been tested?
That makes analysis of any new voting idea pretty simple. Does it make it easier to vote? Does it bring in more of the people who are supposed to be participating in a democracy? Is anyone who ought to be included being unfairly kept out? Are the elections set up properly, and is every vote promptly counted?
President Donald Trump inspired that last question with his suggestion that new funding for the Postal Service proposed in the latest negotiations for federal COVID-19 relief would make it easier for people to vote by mail. You know, the way the president himself votes.
“Now, they need that money in order to make the post office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said in a Thursday interview on the Fox Business Network.
“Now, if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” he said. “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”
Texas doesn’t offer vote by mail to everyone. You can vote absentee — by mail — if you’re going to be out of your home county during the elections, if you’re disabled, jailed or 65 years old or older. Fear of voting in person during a pandemic doesn’t count as a disability, the courts have said.
Even if you do qualify for a mail ballot in Texas, watch those deadlines. Election officials have to have your application in their possession by Oct. 23 — just days before the Nov. 3 election. With slow mail deliveries, that’s pressing your luck. You send an application, they send a ballot, you vote and send it back; even in good times, that’s tight.
The USPS warned Texas and other states on Friday that it can’t guarantee delivery of a late crush of mail ballots.
In other words, the later the vote, the greater the chance it won’t be counted.
The early voter gets the franchise: Applications for mail ballots are available now from the Texas Secretary of State or your local elections office. Or maybe your party. The Texas Democratic Party is sending out 815,000 vote-by-mail applications to voters. That’s a lot, but keep it in perspective: Nearly 9 million Texans voted in the last presidential election, including 3.9 million who voted for the Democratic ticket of Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.
Texas Republicans are with the president, quite literally, worrying loudly about the possibility that fraudulent voting by mail is as common as cornflakes and also making sure that their own vote-by-mail operations are turning out their voters.
If the law allowed the parties to promote voting by mail during the coronavirus pandemic — and if the post office and election officials were in shape to keep up with it — there would be millions more applications on their way to Texas adults.
That’s a prominent stumbling block, but Texas is full of them. You can’t register to vote online, and you can’t register at all for this year’s general election after Oct. 5. Texas requires voters to carry government-issued photo identification, a security measure that has survived court challenges but not criticism that it’s an unnecessary complication designed to intimidate and impede voters.
It’s not like this everywhere. Some states allow voters to register to vote on election day. Most don’t require excuses or extra qualifications from voters who want to vote by mail. Some simply send ballots to all of their citizens, who then cast votes by mail or by dropping their ballots in secure public boxes where they can be gathered and counted.
It’s like they’re trying to make it easy.
Ross Ramsey is executive editor and co-founder of The Texas Tribune, the only member-supported, digital-first, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. Full Bio >>