No one should have to put up with this level of crappy service

That’s the plan. Make people give up and walk away.

[Pam] Gaskin and her husband, Michael, were denied ballots twice this month over procedural mishaps — and if she were any less determined to vote, it may have stayed that way.

“I’ve been a voting rights activist all my life, and I’m 74 years old,” said Gaskin, now a Missouri City resident. “And I have not seen anything like this. I really haven’t.”

The first time, Gaskin submitted the wrong form, though she’d downloaded it from the Fort Bend County website. The new ID requirement warranted a new application, but the county hadn’t updated the document online when Gaskin grabbed it on Jan. 3.

With the new form at her fingertips, Gaskin tried again on Jan. 14. The document stated clearly: “YOU MUST PROVIDE ONE of the following numbers,” before offering space first for a driver’s license number and second for the last four digits of her Social Security number.

The second number, it said, was only necessary “if you do not have a Texas driver’s license, Texas personal identification number or a Texas election identification certificate number.” So, she filled it out using her driver’s license ID and called it a day.

On Jan. 20, Gaskin received her second denial. The rejection letter told her she hadn’t provided the same number she used when registering to vote — 46 years ago, when she moved to Fort Bend County. She called the county to ask what number was missing, but an employee told her she couldn’t say, fearing she would violate the new law.

And so Gaskin started a game of 20 questions, quizzing the elections worker on which detail was missing until she could confirm it was her social security number. (Remi Garza, the president of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators, said the worker was probably being “overcautious.”)

She filled out a third application and finally received her ballot on Monday.

Still, the incident prompted Gaskin to pen a letter to Gary Bledsoe, the head of the Texas NAACP, documenting her experience.

“I keep up with changes in the laws that affect voters and often speak to church groups and other community organizations,” she wrote. “I have NEVER experienced anything like these misguided and Jim Crow-like rules concerning voting. This is almost as bad as asking people how many jelly beans are in the jar.”

Gaskin, who has been a member of the Texas League of Women Voters for about 25 years, worries that others won’t be as persistent as she has been.

See here, here, and here for some background. If this wasn’t a deliberate effort by the Republicans in the Lege to make it harder for a particular segment of the population to vote, then it’s a combination of malpractice-levels of ignorance on the part of those legislators, who had plenty of testimony telling them what would happen, and a high level of incompetence from the Secretary of State, who has been pulling double duty on that front. You can believe there was no bad intent if you want, but the results speak for themselves. Not-bad intentions only get you so far.

Hundreds of other Texans have experienced similar problems. Earlier this month, nearly half of all mail ballot applications in Fort Bend County were rejected because they didn’t meet new stipulations in the elections law.

Now, county Elections Administrator John Oldham says that number has dropped significantly. Oldham estimated that he’d rejected about four out of 100 applications he processed this weekend.

That’s partially because the county found a way around the errors, he said. If a person provides a driver’s license number that’s not in the state voter registration system, county employees can now look elsewhere to find the information and add it to their voter file.

“It’s a lot more work, but it did cut down the rejections considerably,” Oldham said, adding that the Secretary of State’s office hadn’t initially informed the county of that option.

Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office, told Hearst Newspapers earlier this month that the agency is working closely with counties to answer questions and provide assistance as they work through the new ballot laws. Counties can also accept applications that include both ID numbers, he added.

That at least is good news, and if you are or know someone who has been frustrated by this ridiculous process, you need to keep at it. Make sure you’re using the current form, include both your drivers license number and your SSN, and hope for the best. And then remember you’ll have to do this every damn election, because the goal was to make it harder on you. Mission accomplished.

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7 Responses to No one should have to put up with this level of crappy service

  1. Mainstream says:

    The people I know who have had their applications rejected are westside Republicans, including a retired lawyer, and their applications appear to be in correct form. So I have to wonder if the Elections Administrator staff are trying to maximize the number of rejections in order to make a political point.

  2. Leonard says:

    Mainstream, do you know if they registered to vote with SSN, DL, or neither?

    Do you think it’s a problem that the person in the story wasn’t told what was wrong with her application? Were your westside Republican friends told why their applications were rejected?

  3. Frederick says:

    Whether it is inner loop Democrats or westside Republicans having their mail in ballot applications impacted, the GOP in Texas are unconscionable assholes for their antics in regards to our voting democracy.

    And their general incompetence, with flimsy thin lies to attempt to cover it up, is frustrating too.

  4. Leonard says:

    Frederick, it does look like not having to say what is wrong with the application is a feature, not a bug.

  5. Leonard says:

    So now I wonder if Dan Crenshaw messed up on instructions for the applications for mail voting that he sent. From the Texas Tribune:

    “Crenshaw’s mailer includes a prefilled mail-in application and instructions that tell the recipient to “simply sign, stamp, and mail”.

    Does the “prefilled mail-in application” have the TDL and SSN prefilled?

    If so, that doesn’t seem like a very “secure election” type thing (also, I don’t want Crenshaw and everyone else having access to those numbers, so if it is prefilled, that needs to stop).

    If not, it could explain the mysterious rejection of Republican ballot requests – they followed Crenshaw’s directive to “simply sign, stamp, and mail” and did not provide the TDL or SSN.

    I’m very interested in finding this out.

  6. policywonqueria says:

    Re: “the mysterious rejection of Republican ballot requests”

    If that theory is correct, it’s not the unravelling of a mystery, but validates a point made previously:

    Namely, that the application-cum-instructions should be mailed by the Election Administrator or County Clerk (depending on county) because that will assure uniformity within the jurisdiction, and will also provide for public accountability and control, including quality control. And the EA or Clerk will already have the most up-to-date voter list and be in the best position to minimize mailings to bad addresses.

    If need be, a court of competent jurisdiction can resolve performance and compliance issues as they arise, and provide prompt remedies to aggrieved parties, whoever they may be.

    With private mailers of absentee voting applications (candidates, campaigns, and their contractors) it’s not as easy to make sure things are done in conformity with applicable law. Additionally, many actors will potentially be involved in the mailing process, with no easy way to make sure they are all knowledgeable and properly trained. An election office or department, by contrast, has a head/chief where the buck stops.

  7. Leonard says:

    policywonqueria, agreed. It would be interesting to hear if Mainstream’s Republican friends ever figured out what happened to their applications, especially with the allegations against the EA.

    Another way this mess could be cleaned up is to have the application process online, with realtime feedback on errors, as many online forms can do.

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