Problems with Texas law could foreshadow problems with Arizona’s early ballot voter ID proposal
A 1,300% increase in the number of absentee ballots that get rejected under a new voter ID law in Texas could provide a cautionary example for Arizonans in November when they decide whether to enact similar requirements for early voting.
Republican lawmakers referred a measure to Arizona’s general election ballot that, if approved, will impose new ID requirements for the overwhelming majority of voters who cast early ballots in this state.
Currently, people who cast early ballots must sign an affidavit on the envelopes they use to mail or return their ballots. Election officials compare them to signatures from voter registration files to verify their identities. Senate Concurrent Resolution 1012 would add new elements to the process. In addition to their signatures, voters would have to write their birthdates and either their driver’s license number, other state ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security numbers.
Arizona’s proposed voter ID measure is similar to a new law in Texas. A provision of SB1, a wide-ranging law enacted last year, requires people who vote by absentee ballot to include either a state identification number or the last four digits of their Social Security, similar to what SCR1012 would require in Arizona.
The March primary election was the first time Texas used the new voter ID requirements for absentee ballots, and the results should serve as a cautionary example for Arizona or any other state considering similar requirements, said Daniel Griffith, the director of policy for Secure Democracy USA, a nonprofit voting rights organization that’s active in 19 states, including Texas.
In the 2020 elections, about 1% of all absentee ballots were rejected in Texas, Griffith said. Election experts typically like to see that number at no higher than 2%. But in the March 2022 primary election in Texas, that number hit 13% on account of the new ID requirements for absentee ballots, leaving nearly 23,000 absentee ballots uncounted, according to The Associated Press. Preliminary evaluations indicate that more than 90% of those rejections were because voters put the wrong information on their absentee ballots.
Similar, but not identical
The Texas law and the proposed law in Arizona are not perfect comparisons. There are notable differences, some of which could indicate that Arizona might not see problems on a similar scale.
One of those differences is in how election officials deal with early ballots that don’t have the required information. Texas gives election counties the option of contacting voters to let them know their absentee ballots have issues that need to be remedied, Griffith said. Voters can fix those issues in person, or void their absentee ballots and come in to vote in person. Some counties gave voters up to six days after the election to fix the issues with an affidavit.
The Texas law is supposed to allow voters to fix issues with their absentee ballots online, particularly the problems with the ID numbers. But Griffith said it’s not clear that some counties actually did so.
Conversely, all counties in Arizona are currently required to contact early voters if their signatures don’t appear to match and give them up to five days to remedy the problem, a process known as curing. That requirement would extend to ID numbers under SCR1012.
Though the Texas law includes curing processes, there have been logistical problems because they were being implemented for the first time.
“Perhaps Arizona wouldn’t experience that because they’re used to the cure process,” Griffith said.
Another problem that emerged in Texas is that not all voter registration files have both an ID number and a Social Security number — voters have the option to use either, Griffith said. But if they use a number that’s not in their file, election officials can’t match them.
That could also be a problem in Arizona, however. Jennifer Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, said most voters have driver’s licenses on file, and some have Social Security numbers. But if voters put information on their ballot affidavits that election officials don’t have on file, the counties will have to take extra time to cure those voters’ ballots.
“And then it’s a question of — can we cure them in time?” Marson said.
Scope of early voting in Arizona could mean a much bigger impact
In other ways, Arizona’s proposed law could cause more problems, Griffith said.
Arizona voters would be required to include more information than Texas voters. While Texas voters still must sign their ballot affidavits, Griffith said it’s a “gray area” as to whether verification is required. He said SB1 created a presumption that if the ID numbers matched, the signatures were valid.
SCR1012 doesn’t eliminate the requirement that signatures be verified. Voters’ signatures would still have to match, as would the date of birth and ID number. With more data points that must match before a ballot could be counted, there are more ways for it to be rejected.
Probably the biggest reason that early voter ID could cause more problems in Arizona than in Texas is that early voting is so much more prevalent here. So, a 13% rejection rate for early ballots in Arizona would affect far more voters than in Texas.
Roughly 89% of the 3.42 million ballots cast in the 2020 general election were early ballots. If 13% of Arizona early ballots were rejected, it would mean nearly 396,000 voters wouldn’t have their ballots counted.
Because Texas limits early voting to people over 65 years of age, people who are going to be out of their home counties during the early voting period and Election Day, people with disabilities, and people who are confined due to medical or mental health reasons, absentee ballots accounted for only 13% of that state’s ballots cast in the March primary. That meant only 23,000 Texans saw their ballots tossed, even with the higher rejection rate.
Arizona has allowed no-excuse early voting since 1991, and implemented its Permanent Early Voting List in 2007. The result has been that most Arizona voters use early ballots, either mailing them in or dropping them off at polling places.
“I cannot think of a way that this is not going to be a more time-consuming process than what already occurs in terms of ballot verification in Arizona,” Griffith said.
Griffith said voter education is key to avoiding the kinds of problems that Texas saw. States that enact such requirements should also ensure that election officials have enough time before they go into effect to update voter registration records, and to provide sufficient guidance and training for counties.
“I would say advice number one is don’t do it at all, in terms of the ID number. But if you’re going to, you need to take plenty of time to make sure that you have covered all of your logistical bases as far as how it’s going to be implemented and have minimal impact on the ability of voters to make sure their ballots are counted,” Griffith said. “It’s something no one should rush into, and everyone needs to tread carefully in terms of how this sort of system is structured.”
There will be a ‘learning curve,’ but no real harm, sponsor says
Sen. J.D. Mesnard, the Chandler Republican who sponsored SCR1012, said he can’t speak to the specifics of Texas’s new law, but said it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison to the proposal that Arizonans will decide on in November.
Mesnard acknowledged that there could be problems at first, but said there are ways to mitigate them. He noted that Arizona has a robust curing process for early ballots. Voter education could also lessen any negative consequences.
“Can you have a bump in the road here and there? I suppose. Heck, there are rejected ballots now. I think that this overall makes the system better. And, at the end of the day, there can be a learning curve. And you just pursue that,” Mesnard said.
Helen Purcell, a Republican who served as Maricopa County recorder from 1989-2016, expressed concern that Arizona voters might not read the instructions they get from their county election departments or might otherwise err in complying with the early voter ID requirement.
“They think they know it. Well, they’ve been doing this for years, so why not do it the same way?” Purcell said.
Voter education would be critical to avoiding problems, said F. Ann Rodriguez, Pima County’s former Democratic county recorder, who held the position from 1993-2020, serving, like Purcell, for 28 years. She likened it to the educational campaign that followed the passage of Proposition 200, a 2004 ballot measure that requires Arizona voters to provide proof of citizenship and show photo ID to vote in person.
“It’s an educational problem and they’ll have to do a major PR campaign,” Rodriguez said. “At first, there are going to be some issues.”
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.