The Lubbock County elections office is urging voters to take note of several new procedures and requirements triggered by a recent state law that have already prompted a handful of rejected requests for mail-in ballots.
Senate Bill 1 that passed in a special state Legislative Session last August, brought a slew of reforms and changes for local elections officials and voters to abide by, including limitations in applying for mail-in ballots and prohibiting 24-hour voting.
The new state voting law is effective for the upcoming March 1 party primary elections. Early voting begins Feb. 14, and the deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is Feb. 18, while the deadline to register to vote is Jan. 31.
Already, Lubbock County Elections Administrator Roxzine Stinson said her office has had to reject a handful of applications for mail-in ballots for a variety of reason. Of about 500 applications received by Thursday, eight were rejected.
Those voters whose ballots are rejected are sent notification via mail explaining why the application was rejected – giving them a chance to re-apply.
“That’s why it’s important to put in an application early,” Stinson said.
She said that volume of applications is not particularly unusual compared to recent years.
Stinson said her office has been careful to closely adhere to the new rules – not only to ensure the integrity of elections, but also because those who violate the law could face fines or even jail time.
State Rep. Dustin Burrows, who supported SB1, said the new law aims to protect the integrity of elections by dictating that different counties are playing by the same rules.
Back in August, the Texas Tribune reported that Burrows and fellow lawmaker State Rep. Briscoe Cain had advocated for efforts to remove or lessen punishments for what they called “honest mistakes.”
One amendment — offered by Cain, R-Deer Park, but worked on as a bipartisan effort — was meant to prevent voter mistakes from being prosecuted as fraud but ultimately was removed by a panel of lawmakers tasked with finalizing the bill, according to the Tribune.
Following the House’s final vote on SB 1, Burrows offered a resolution addressing an appeals court’s ruling in the controversial conviction of Crystal Mason, a Tarrant County woman facing a five-year sentence for a ballot she has said she did not know she was ineligible to cast, according to the Tribune.
Burrows told the A-J the new election law addresses what he called some concerns that came to a head in the 2020 election cycle – mostly in more urban parts of the state.
He acknowledged he wasn’t aware of any complaints of concerns about local elections offices in the Lubbock area, but said testimony that lawmakers heard last year focused on concerns in Harris County and parts of the Rio Grand Valley. Those included drive-through or 24/7 voting sites that he believed were disproportionately in precincts benefiting Democrats.
“To us, they were trying to skew the election,” Burrows said. “Having a standard, uniform approach to this across the state makes a lot of sense.”
The changes to the mail-in voting process, Burrows said, aim to reduce the risk for voter fraud. Those changes include now requiring that only a voter – and not a spouse, for example – can contact an elections office requesting an application for a mail-in ballot and that applications must include verifiable forms of ID information including a Driver’s License number and last four digits of a Social Security number. An elections office also cannot automatically mail applications for mail-in ballots as they have in the past.
On Feb. 1, Burrows will host Texas Sec. of State John B. Scott in Lubbock for a public but limited-availability question-and-answer session on the new voting law and election integrity. The event will be at noon Tuesday, Feb. 1 at the McKenzie-Merket Alumni Center on the Texas Tech campus. Those interested in attending can email email@example.com.
New procedures of note
The Lubbock County Elections Office provided the following information as a guide for voters with questions about the new elections procedures.
With the changes from Senate Bill 1 from the 2021 Legislative session, the elections office is now required to do the following in regards to ballots by mail:
· The office is no longer allowed to mail an Application for Ballot by Mail to any voter unless they contact our office and request the application.
In the past, the office had mailed out applications to those who qualified for an annual application the prior year. It can no longer do this.
o Voters may contact the elections office by telephone – 806.775.1338
o Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
o Fax – 806.775.7980
o Or in writing.
§ If a voter submits a request in writing:
· State the applicant’s name;
· State the applicant’s address;
· State the number of the applicant’s driver’s license or personal identification card issued by DPS, or if applicant has not been issued one of those number, the last four digits of the applicant’s Social Security number, or a statement that the applicant has not been issued either of those numbers (NEW LAW – SB 1; 2021, 2nd C.S.):
· State the address at which the applicant is registered;
· State the address to which ballot is to be mailed, if different and if authorized by law.
· Sate a valid ground for voting by mail;
· Indicate the election for which the applicant is applying to vote by mail; and
· Be signed by applicant or witness; if applicable
· “An ABBM that does not contain these statutory elements must be rejected by the early voting clerk.” The election office will always send a new application to the voter if it is rejected so they have the opportunity to correct the application.·
If they are requesting a ballot by mail for the Primary elections, then they must notate which Primary they would like to vote in.
· If the voter calls the elections office, the office must speak to each individual voter.
“Say, if a spouse calls and request multiple applications we still have to speak to the other voter,” Stinson said. “This is the same in which every manner the voters submit their request. The request must be received from each individual voter.”
o With the calls that the office has received to date from voters wanting to know why the office did not mail out applications this year, they have all been very understanding and supportive, Stinson said.
· If the voter has an assistant that calls and request a ballot by mail application, the elections office cannot send it based on that, as we must receive the request from the voter.
o An ABBM application may be delivered in person only by the voter. (Sec. 84.008 Texas Election Code)
Campaigns may mail our pre-filled applications to qualifying voters, they may NOT fill out the voter’s ground for voting by mail, any witness or assistant information, any personally identifiable information, and any affirmations that must be made by the voter.
Senate Bill 1 made changes to the carrier envelope as well. This is the envelope in which the voter returns the ballot to the elections office.
“Once we receive our envelopes next week, we will be reaching out to everyone in hopes of running information on how to complete the envelope before returning it to us with the voter’s ballot,” Stinson said.