Know the 2021 Texas Voting Law

Senate Bill 1 (SB 1):

Enacted into law following the Texas Legislature’s Second Special Session of the 2021, SB 1 makes a number of changes to Texas voting laws that are worth knowing.  While the bill creates additional hurdles to voting and prohibits certain voting practices used by Harris County last year, which were particularly popular among persons of color, earlier versions of the bill were even worse.

SB 1 becomes effective on December 2, 2021.  It will therefore not be in effect for the constitutional election this November 2nd.

Vote by Mail

SB 1 requires that persons who vote by mail now include their Texas driver’s license, ID card, or election ID certificate number1 on their vote-by-mail application and later with their mail-in ballot. If a voter does not have such a number, then the voter must include the last four digits of their social security number (SSN) or a statement that one has neither. If the number on the vote-by-mail application does not identify the same voter identified on the vote by mail applicant’s voter registration application, then the vote by mail application will be rejected.

Similarly, if the number (TDL or ID or SSN last four digits) entered on the carrier envelope of the mail-in ballot does not identify the same voter on the voter’s voter registration application, then the ballot may be rejected.

To this end, if a voter put the last four digits of their SSN on their voter registration application (if for instance they did not yet have a Texas driver’s license) and then later put their Texas driver’s license number on their vote by mail application, there is a possibility that their application could be rejected.

  • Takeaway #1: If you vote by mail, follow the instructions on the vote by mail application. If you do not remember which number you included when you registered to vote and you have both a Texas driver’s license (or personal ID) number and an SSN, then it’s advisable to include both on the application.
  • Takeaway #2: With the vote by mail ballot, follow the instructions carefully. If you have received a mail-in ballot, you have already once provided the required information. Here again, if you do not remember which number you entered on your voter registration application or your more recent vote-by-mail application, then it’s advisable to include both numbers.

If the vote-by-mail application is rejected, SB 1 requires written notification to be sent to the voter with instructions on how the voter can correct the application information using the new online tracking tool (see the section below for information on the tracking tool).

Vote By Mail Ballot Cure

You will have the opportunity to fix a mail ballot defect or vote a new ballot if there is a problem with your mail ballot for one of the following reasons:

  • Missing or incorrect ID number
  • Missing a required Statement of Residence form
  • Missing witness information (if applicable)
  • Missing or mismatched voter signature

Correcting a mail ballot defect. If the defect is one of the above, then election officials must within two business days determine if there is enough time for the carrier envelope to be returned by mail to the voter to correct the defect and return it to election officials. If there is not sufficient time, then election officials may contact the voter by telephone or email to inform the voter that they may cancel their vote by mail application or come to the early voting clerk’s office to correct the defect.

Vote By Mail Application Distribution

Election officials are banned from distributing unsolicited vote-by-mail applications. However, a political party or a candidate MAY distribute unsolicited applications.

Early Voting Hours

Counties of 55,000 or more (like Collin) must have polls open for at least 12 hours on weekdays and Saturdays during the last week of early voting. They can open no earlier than 6AM and close no later than 10PM.

On the last Sunday of the early voting period, such counties must have polls open at least 6 hours. They can open no earlier than 9AM and close no later than 10PM.

Voter Assistance

A person assisting a voter who cannot read or mark a ballot must complete a form stating their name and address, how they are related to the voter, and whether they have been compensated for assisting the voter. They must take an oath under penalty of perjury that the voter has requested such assistance and that the person providing that assistance will not direct or otherwise suggest how the voter should vote. Note that it is illegal (state jail felony) to be compensated for assisting a voter.

Transporting Voters

If a person transports seven (7) or more people simultaneously to a poll for curbside voting, that person (i.e., driver) must complete and submit a form, provided by an election officer, containing their name and address and whether they are providing assistance solely for transport or for transport and assisting the people to vote. This does not apply if the transported voters are relatives as specified in the bill2.

Poll Watchers

SB1 provided additional protections and rights to poll watchers.  Among those protections, a presiding judge may not have a poll watcher removed from the polling place for violating a provision of the Election Code or any other provision of law relating to the conduct of elections, other than a violation of the Penal Code, unless the violation was observed by an election judge or clerk.

  • A poll watcher shall observe without obstructing the conduct of an election and call to the attention of an election officer any observed or suspected irregularity or violation of the law in the conduct of the election.
  • A poll watcher is entitled to sit and stand near enough to see and hear the elections officers conducting the observed activity, except as otherwise prohibited.
  • A poll watcher may observe all activities relating to closing the polling place. The poll watcher may follow the transfer of election materials from the polling place to a regional tabulating center.
  • Poll watchers must take a training program developed by the Secretary of State.  The program must be available entirely via the Internet, and at any time, without a requirement for prior registration.  A poll watcher who completes the training must be provided with a certificate of completion.
  • When a poll watcher reports for service at a poll, the watcher must present the certificate of completion in addition to the certificate of appointment to the presiding election officer. A watcher is required to take the following oath: “I swear (or affirm) that I will not disrupt the voting process or harass voters in the discharge of my duties.”

Verification of Citizenship Status with the DPS

SB 1 requires the Secretary of State (SoS) to enter into an agreement with the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to verify voter citizenship status previously provided on voter registration applications each month. The SoS shall only consider voter information in the DPS database derived from documents presented by the voter to the DPS AFTER the person’s current voter registration became effective.

Other Voting Changes:

Aside from SB1, the Texas Legislature passed several other bills related to voting during the Regular Session earlier this year.

  • The Secretary of State will create an online mail-in application and ballot tracker (HB 1382). See below for more information.
  • Voters are now allowed to hand-deliver their vote-by-mail application in person to the county early voting clerk’s office until the day of the application deadline (HB 3107). Previously, voters were only allowed to do so until the last business day before early voting began.
  • Voters are eligible to vote by mail if they are expecting to give birth within three weeks before or after Election Day (HB 3920). The law makes some additional changes around who is eligible for a mail ballot.
    • HB 3920 explicitly bars voters from voting by mail because: (a) of a lack of transportation, (b) they have a sickness that does not prevent the voter from going to a polling place without needing personal assistance or injuring their health, or (c) that they are required to be at work on Election Day.
  • Voters voting by mail for reason of disability or illness must proactively check a box affirming that they have a disability or illness (HB 3920).

Tracking Your Vote by Mail Application and Ballot

Courtesy of HB 1382 from this year’s regular session, there will be an online tool for tracking vote by mail applications and ballots for elections after January 1, 2022. Once that tool is available, the CCDP will share the link.

The tracking tool will update a person’s application or ballot status when the following events occur:

  • Receipt by the early voting clerk of the voter’s vote by mail application
  • Acceptance or rejection of the vote by mail application
  • Placement in the mail to the voter of the vote by mail ballot
  • Receipt by the early voting clerk of the voter’s marked vote by mail ballot
  • Acceptance or rejection of the vote by mail ballot

If the vote by mail application is rejected, the tool can be used to add to or correct the information on the application.

References

Texas Democratic Party’s Own Your Vote Information Sheet

SB 1:
https://legiscan.com/TX/bill/SB1/2021/X2

SB1 Texas Legislature Online:
https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=872&Bill=SB1

Dallas Morning News on SB 1:
https://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/2021/08/31/8-things-to-know-about-the-texas-elections-bill-on-its-way-to-gov-greg-abbott/

Texas Tribune on SB 1:
https://www.texastribune.org/2021/08/30/texas-voting-restrictions-bill/

HB 1382 (Online Vote By Mail Tracking Tool):
https://legiscan.com/TX/bill/HB1382/2021

HB 3107:
https://legiscan.com/TX/bill/HB3107/2021

HB 3920:
https://legiscan.com/TX/bill/HB3920/2021

CCDP Information on the Constitutional Election on November 2, 2021 (not affected by SB 1):
https://www.collindemocrats.org/collin_county_elections/constitutional-election-2021/

Notes:

[1] The Texas Identification Card and Election Identification Certificate (EIC) are both photo IDs issued by the Department of Public Safety. The ID card, mainly for those without a Texas Driver License (TDL), is used to prove a person’s identity and has an application fee. One cannot have both a TDL and a Texas ID Card. The EIC is for voters who have no other acceptable form of identification for voting. It is free of charge.

[2] SB 1 specifies that each relative must be within the second degree of affinity (ex. spouse, parent in-law, daughter/son in-law) or within the third degree of consanguinity (ex. parent, child, brother/sister, grandparent, great-grandparent, aunt/uncle, nephew/niece). A first cousin is at the fourth degree of consanguinity.