New Texas voting law snags US citizens, mail ballot requests

A sweeping new Texas voting law that Republicans muscled through the Legislature last year over dramatic protests is drawing fire again, even before some of the most contentious restrictions and changes kick in ahead of the state's first-in-the-nation primary.

Some U.S. citizens have received letters saying they could be kicked off the voting rolls. Hundreds of mail-in ballot applications are being rejected because they don't include required new information.

James Slattery, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said that the new law was a bad situation.

Republicans in at least 18 states, including Florida, Georgia and Arizona, have enacted new voting restrictions since the 2020 election after the Texas law was approved last year. The national GOP campaign to tighten voting laws was partly driven by former President Donald Trump's false claims that he won the election.

Democrats walked out of the Legislature and warned that it could affect a lot of voters, especially Black, Latino and Asian people. Provisions such as expanded powers for partisan poll watchers don't take effect until after the election. Civil rights groups say what has happened so far is alarming.

Texas sent letters to more than 11,000 voters warning them that their registration will be canceled if they don't prove they're citizens. The Texas Secretary of State's office said that more than 2,000 registration ended after voters didn't show up. Some of the people who received warning letters were citizens.

Monty Tew, who was born in Texas, said he couldn't understand why he was asked to prove his citizenship. He said he paid $30 to get a copy of his birth certificate, which he then sent to the county with a proof of citizenship picture.

Tew, of Round Rock, a city outside Austin, said that he was fortunate that it wasn't that big of a deal. I can imagine how much flogging someone else would get if they didn't have their hands on technology or if they paid someone $30 to get something that was a waste of your time, money and effort.

The election administrators in some of Texas' largest counties, which are run by Democrats, began raising early alarms about hundreds of mail-in ballot applications they have had to reject for not complying with strict new provisions.

A new requirement in the 76-page law is that voter include either their driver's license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number on mail-in ballot applications.

The numbers are matched to the records of the counties. Texas had some of the nation's most restrictive mail-in ballot rules, and was one of only a few states that did not expand mail balloting in 2020.

Harris County rejected more than 200 applications from voters in the Houston area. In Austin, the rate of rejections is 50%.

The Harris County elections administrator said it was a red flag. The number of applications is low and the rejection rate is high. It is really worrying to me.

The Secretary of State's office said that counties should check with it on how to reject mail ballots. The letters warning voters they may lose their right to vote were sent as part of the implementation of the new voting law. The measure includes a procedure to comply with a settlement of a lawsuit that Texas had in the past tried to remove non-US citizens from voter rolls.

If a voter doesn't provide proof of citizenship within 30 days of receiving the notice of examination, their registration will be canceled and they will have the chance to register again if they provide proof of citizenship at the polling place.

Taylor said that of the 2,327 voters whose registration was canceled through the procedure, 278 have been confirmed as noncitizens.

Civil rights groups say the state is not taking the correct steps to make sure U.S. citizens don't get caught in the process. The state is supposed to only flag people who are not US citizens after they register to vote. Harish Vyalla, 35, of Austin, who is a US citizen, said he has voted in the county at least twice since becoming a US citizen.

Vyalla said he was surprised because he had never been asked about his right to vote before. The government should have all the documents in hand.

The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund has an attorney named Nina Perales. She said state officials are setting themselves up for another lawsuit because they are not following it.

Texas voters should be prepared for a rocky voting experience as the law's provisions fully kick in during the March 1 primary, according to Perales.

There will be confusion and doubt for a lot of voters when they go to the polls.


The person reported from Denver. The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative has a corps member named Coronado. Report for America places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.