By MIKE McGEE
The Dallas Examiner
Hyped by the phrase “Know What To Do To VOTE in ’22!” State Sen. Royce West hosted a virtual town hall meeting ahead of the March primary election and May and November general elections that explored recent changes in voting laws. These new laws were put into place during the 87th Legislature session in Austin.
Texas Secretary of State John Scott fielded the first question of the night, which related to what trained, official poll watchers could and could not do at a voting precinct.
After a little over a year of heightened political division underscored by the Jan. 6, 2021 mob in Washington, D.C., he stated that interference at any polling place would not be tolerated.
“The election judge is expressly granted some authority on how to remove a poll watcher should they become disruptive to the process,” he said.
Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Kristy Noble requested clarity on the new laws in terms of the ballot tracking system and voter registration system. Senate Bill 1 provided that the vote by mail ballot tracking system and vote by mail applications would be available to voters to observe online the status of their ballots and voter applications.
“With this new law, voters can go in and update their voter registration information through this system, is that’s correct?” Noble asked.
“That’s kind of correct,” replied Christina Atkins, the chief election attorney who represents the secretary of state.
“On [VoteTexas.gov] you have your ability access the Ballot By Mail tracker and what this is, this tells people in real time what’s happening, or close to real time… with their Ballot By Mail application and then subsequently their mail ballots.
“When it’s mailed to them, when it’s received back by the county. It also provides the ability for voters, if they have a missing or incorrect personal identification number, to go in and validate what that number is.”
Voter registration, mail-in ballots and the technology tied to them were discussed in-depth during the town hall. Atkins remarked that there are also ways for voters currently registered to update their voter registrations or voter applications so that they will not face delays on Election Day.
“The ability for voters to update their registration information online is through a different application, that’s accessed through www.texas.gov,” she said. “You can log into the system, and just by searching, by logging in to the system, it’ll pull over your identification numbers.
“So, if you have some missing numbers from your voter registration record, or you just need to make any other changes to your voter registration record, you can do that through [Vote]Texas.gov if you’re currently registered.”
Atkins spoke about the new information voters need to add to their Ballot By Mail applications as well.
“You either have to add your Texas driver’s license, personal identification card number, or EIC, for some people that have electronic identification certificates,” she said.
If prospective voters do not have personal identification numbers, then the last four digits of their Social Security numbers will suffice.
“If you have not been issued either of those numbers there’s a box where you can indicate that,” she concluded.
West raised a concern about individuals who do not have or use computers, and instead rely on the U.S. postal service; how do individuals who have had their voter applications rejected for various reasons, such as erroneous or outdated information, make needed corrections?
“To the extent that we’ve had any phone calls about it, we invite them to come into our office, and we help them walk through it,” replied Jennifer Stoddard-Hajdu, the Dallas County Republican Party Chair.
Scott also mentioned that citizens could use new voter registration forms to update their information if the rejection was the result of a missing number.
“So they’re not isolated purely to the electronic form. They can still use the stamp, or they can take that updated voter registration form and drop it off at the election administrator’s office,” he confirmed.
There is also a plan in place to let voters know if their mail-in ballots are flawed and need to be corrected, according to Atkins.
“There are some provisions in SB 1 that I think puts some limitations on what a county election official can do. For example, they can’t proactively send out applications for Ballot By Mail forms to voters. They can only send them to voters that have requested them,” she began. “But, for example, with the voted mail ballot itself, there’s a specific provision in the law actually that authorizes ballot boards to call or email voters to notify them of defects found.
“This is going to be a new procedure. It’s not going to be something that existed before, so there’s a number of different reasons why county election officials, or other elected officials – like ballot board members – they have legal authority to contact voters,” adding that when it comes to voting rights, “The most important thing I want to reiterate there is that, whatever you do for one voter, you need to be willing to do for all voters in that situation.”
The attorney also expressed that voters should be able to feel at ease that their votes will be counted since there are now a variety of ways that citizens can follow the phases of the election process.
“Remember that the Ballot By Mail tracker itself is a convenience tool, and while we’re really, really happy to have it, and we’re really glad that a lot of voters – you know, we hope a lot of voters use it because we think it’s a great tool – if a voter doesn’t have access to the internet and or can’t log into the tracker because they don’t have all the authentication numbers, they can still pick up the phone and call us, or call their county election office to get a status update on their mail ballot application request or their vote-in mail ballot.”
The phone numbers for voting information at the secretary of states’ office are 1-800-252-8683 or 512-463-5650. The Dallas County Elections Department is located at 1520 Round Table Drive, Dallas, TX 75247 and can be reached at 469-627-8683.
Further information can also be found online at https://www.sos.texas.gov/elections.