“Georgia’s and Texas’s successful elections don’t mean voting is easy”

Jessica Huseman for VoteBeat:

We have survived another round of elections, everyone. Congratulations. 

But a bigger congratulations goes to election administrators in Texas and Georgia, who pulled off successful elections last week after both states passed winding and largely unnecessary laws last year, aimed at combating nearly non-existent fraud. If you listen to the folks who support those laws, they’re saying all the smooth processes and heavy participation (in Georgia, at least, where turnout was high) are proof those laws couldn’t possibly have made voting harder. 

We give this claim three bamboo fibers out of five, which just might be our new unit of measurement for something that’s gone awry.

It’s a logically flawed argument that people have been making, in various forms, for decades. In some sense, it is the same underlying concept behind former President Donald Trump’s repeated assumption that high turnout is good for Democrats, and low turnout is good for Republicans — as if turnout can be boiled down to a few, basically intractable things decided years or months in advance, like party affiliation and laws on the books about voting. That’s not the way this works, and it’s an argument political scientists have repeatedly debunked. …

Let’s drill in, for a moment, on Texas, where turnout was as expected but mail-ballot rejections were down markedly from only a couple of months ago. We know that during the primary this year, tens of thousands of ballots were rejected across the state because of the new voting law, which required voters to put either their drivers license number or a partial Social Security number on the outside envelope of the ballot. Counties were forced to comply with this law in a matter of months, as Texas has among the earliest primaries in the country. But this week, during the runoff election, rejection rates decreased to near-normal levels. Why? 

Not because the law wasn’t detrimental. That was clearly established by the primary. The improvement was at least partially because election administrators actually had time to take (and went through the trouble of taking) several steps, expensive in terms of both money and time, to improve the process.

Lorraine McKay, the ballot-by-mail coordinator in Williamson County, Texas (just north of Austin), said this time around, county administrators took a range of steps they were unable to take leading up to the primary. They sent out mailers with each ballot, encouraging people to list both numbers (even though federal law only permits states to require one of them) to avoid rejections. They also modified the design of the envelopes to call attention to the requirement, and have expedited the process of sending out rejections so that affected voters have as much time as possible to fix the error through the ballot curing process. 

“Our office as a whole has made a point to remind by mail voters of the new requirements, even when they call with a different question. Every interaction is an opportunity to help a voter successfully cast their vote,” she said. 

Prior to the primary, administrators were worried about what they could legally tell voters. The law made soliciting the use of absentee ballots for those who didn’t request them a state jail felony (a real Texas thing), leaving officials wondering how able they were to instruct potential applicants. That has sorted itself out. Administrators have received guidance from the Texas secretary of state’s office, allowing them to be far more proactive in their approach.

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