July Alter has been voting by mail for 18 years in Tarrant County, and she’d never run into any problems, until now.

Now that the primary election is over, election administrators and county officials can turn the attention to educating the public on the new voting requirements ahead of the May runoff and municipal elections. 

Alter tried three separate times to successfully obtain and cast her ballot by mail for the March 1 primary. She has yet to find success. 

“Yeah, it is frustrating!” Alter said. 

Alter isn’t alone. Tarrant County estimates nearly 25% of ballots were rejected unless the voters who submitted the ballot take corrective action. It’s a part of a larger state trend that’s seen thousands of ballot applications rejected since February. Last year the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1. The law, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, creates new restrictions on voters. This includes voters who rely on mail-in ballots. 

How does SB1 change mail-in voting 

Along with other changes, Senate Bill 1 requires voters to include their driver’s license number or, if they don’t have one, the last four digits of their Social Security number on applications. Then, they will have to include the identification number of the envelope of the completed ballot. 

Alter, a retired editor and writer who has mobility issues and can’t get to the polls on her own, couldn’t cast her vote Tuesday. She planned to vote in the Democratic primary, and said, even though she doesn’t feel especially passionate about the primary candidates, she feels defeated by this year’s voting process. 

“Right now, it’s the principle of being denied that frosts me,” Alter said. “I’ll feel much more intense, and be more proactive, in November.” 

When Alter first applied to receive her ballot via mail, the elections office told her it didn’t receive her application, when she was finally able to get her application approved and cast her ballot it was rejected because her ballot had an ID error. 

“But I think a lot of people won’t be as determined as I am,” Alter said. “They might get discouraged and give up.” 

Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia said an equally determined group of people work to notify voters if there’s an issue with their ballots. Two ballot boards handle issues that arise with mail-in ballots. 

What is a ballot board

A ballot board is created to process early voting applications. The board consists of a presiding judge, an alternate judge and at least one other member, each party has its own board. The county chair of each political party will appoint the presiding judge of the ballot board with approval from the County Executive Committee. The chair of the parties and precinct chairs comprise the committee. 

Board members have chosen to reach out to voters directly if they encounter an issue with their ballot by either calling or emailing the voter, Garcia said. 

“They are putting in a lot of effort to reach out directly to voters,” Garcia said. “It’s always easier when you can talk to someone and explain what the new law is, the problem they have and how they can fix it.” 

The ballot board reached out to Alter after her ballot was rejected. The email gave her two options to correct the ballot, both of which involved Alter traveling to correct or casting a provisional ballot on Election Day. Neither was an option for Alter. 

Instead, she used the newly created ballot tracker on the secretary of state’s website. The tracker was also a product of Senate Bill 1 and allows voters to make small corrections to their ballot, including correcting an ID number. 

“But not all cases can’t be solved using that online tool,” Garcia said. 

For example, Garcia explains, if voters forget to sign their ballot, they will need to come into the elections office to correct that error. 

Alter isn’t the only voter who has concerns about mail-in voting. Stuart Flynn, dean of the TCU Medical School, said he submitted his mail-in ballot without incident until, two hours before polls closed, he received an email that said there was a problem with the ballot ID number. 

Flynn isn’t sure whether there was a problem with his ID number he was required to write on the ballot’s envelope, or if the email was referencing the ballot’s identification number. Regardless, he was forced to go to the polls in person and cast a provisional ballot.

“This is disenfranchising,” Flynn said. “Something as simple and powerful as casting a vote ends up taking a lot of time, causing a lot of irritation, and it didn’t work the way it was supposed to work.”

Flynn said he thinks there is a 50-50 chance that his vote was counted in the vote totals. He said he takes voting seriously, and took steps to ensure that his ballot followed the rules laid out by the newly passed Senate Bill 1 and, yet, he’s not sure he has a vote to show for it. 

“The specter of society from the most highly educated to the underrepresented, all are struggling with the rules of the game,” Flynn said. “If they’re trying to disenfranchise voters, they’re going to succeed, but they’re not going to get me to disenfranchise me.”

Cooweessta Hendrickson decided to vote by mail because she finds it easier than going to vote in person. Her first ballot application, though, was rejected because she didn’t include her driver’s license number. 

Hendrickson said after she mailed her application off with her ID number, she received a notification from an identity theft monitor that her driver’s license number was found on the internet. She can’t think of another place people could steal that information from other than her ballot, she said.

Her main concern is the state selling her private information or failing to secure it properly, she said, but her concerns won’t prevent her from voting by mail in the general election. 

“It makes me want to vote even more,” Hendrickson said. 

The elections office does everything it can to ensure voters’ personal information is protected, Garcia said. The envelope voters use to display their ID number has a sealed flap that keeps sensitive information required to be included on the envelope out of view during the mailing process.

“What we’re doing is that the Legislature asked us to do,” Garcia said. “As long as it’s required by the law that information has to be included when it’s mailed in, there’s very little we can tell someone about that.” 

How you make sure your mail-in ballot counts in the future

The best way to make sure your mail-in ballot counts is by confirming your voter registration, Garcia said. Even if you are already registered to vote, you should register again with your most current ID number, he said. 

While voters can ensure their registration by looking up their name and date of birth, they cannot confirm what ID number the elections office has on file. 

“Make sure the number you put on your registration matches what you plan to use on your ballot application,” Garcia said. “That way you won’t have these issues.” 

Alter is disappointed that the voting process she has used for 18 years has become so complicated. She is concerned that other voters won’t be as determined to vote as she is. 

“I will, by gosh, vote in the general election,” Alter said. “And now I know all the things I need to do, so I hope I can get it done right away.”

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Rachel BehrndtGovernment Accountability Reporter

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report in collaboration with KERA. She is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri where she majored in Journalism and Political...

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