AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – As the League of Women Voters (LWV) Amarillo chapter continues its efforts to register new voters before the Jan. 31 deadline, organization representatives discussed changes to the process that took effect after the latest state legislative session.

Also mentioned in previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, new voting laws in Texas have not only increased the legal penalties for dishonest voter registration but made the application process significantly more difficult – both for new voters, and those who have been voting in the state for decades.

During the 2021 Texas State Legislative session, the penalty for illegal voter registration was increased from a class B misdemeanor to a class A misdemeanor. Older voter registration applications now say that the penalty for illegal voter registration could be up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine of as much as $2,000. Meanwhile, online information and newer forms would give the more accurate information – that the penalty could now be up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $4,000.

Further, the LWV said that voter applications now also require a person to include either their state-issued ID numbers, such as a driver’s license number, or a partial social security number (the last four digits.) Older forms for voter registration did not have space for these numbers, which has led to those who have filled out the older version being rejected.

These two changes to the application are important to note, as the LWV has said that the voter registration applications the organization has received from the office of the Secretary of State were an older version of the application. If the state has distributed outdated forms, it brings up the possibility that people who have filled out the forms properly could still be denied registration and excluded from the upcoming election.

In addition to that, the LWV said that the identification numbers given must match the ones used when a voter initially registered, “which could have been decades before!” People seeking to renew their voter registration after moving or otherwise being purged from Texas’ voter registry could find themselves rejected because they used one of their valid identification numbers instead of another.

“Almost none of us remember which number we used when we registered,” said LWV Representative Sonya Letson, “If the numbers do not match the original voter registration, the application is rejected. That is why the League is recommending the voter include BOTH the state ID number AND the social security [number].”

Not only must the physical voter application form hold those numbers, said the LWV, but “the envelope that the voter uses to return their mail ballot” must also contain the same matching number. The LWV, again, recommended that voters include both their state ID and social security numbers in an effort to avoid having their ballots rejected.”

Those who plan to vote or register to vote should also review the newly set guidelines regarding “residence” as it is noted in the application process. For example, those who wish to register to vote can no longer do so using a P.O. box as their listed address.

Alongside the changes to the application process, the LWV discussed the deadlines and requirements for people who wish to vote by mail as well. According to the LWV, five types of voters qualify for mail-in ballots in Texas:

  • Voters 65 years of age and older
  • Voters who are sick or have a disability
  • Voters who are traveling out of the country on all possible election dates
  • Voters who are in jail, but otherwise eligible to vote
  • Voters who are expectant mothers with a due date three weeks before, up to three weeks after, Election Day

The final category regarding expectant mothers is new, according to the LWV, and the deadline for the elections office to receive someone’s vote-by-mail application is Feb. 18.

The voter registration application must be filled out on paper and signed in ink. Aside from local voter registration events such as those hosted by the LWV, those who wish to register can print out a form from the Secretary of State’s website and mail it in, or go to register in person at their local county elections office. If mailed, the application must be postmarked by Jan. 31 in order for the registration to be complete in time for the March 1 election.

Despite the fact that Texas allows those who are renewing their drivers’ licenses to register to vote online, it differs from the majority of the country (41 states, according to the LWV) by not having online voter registration available to all others who wish to apply or renew their registration.

Between the issues with printing and distributing the physical voter registration applications, the difficulties the Texas Secretary of State’s Office said have been in part because of supply chain issues and cost, and the pre-existing online registration for some voters, the years-long debate over whether or not Texas should add an online registration option has retaken some spotlight.

Opponents of the idea of online voter registration have argued that online systems are vulnerable to hacking and fraud. For example, critics have cited reports that said at least 21 states’ voter registration systems or state websites were targeted by Russian hackers leading up to the 2016 election, with those hackers attempting to scan hundreds of thousands of voters’ personal information.

However, Texas was among those targeted states in 2016, which was before it had even adopted the option for people renewing their drivers’ licenses to register to vote online – which happened in 2020.

Meanwhile, after a person in Texas fills out a paper form and sends it to their county registrar’s office, the process of voter registration is already fully digital. After a county registrar employee inputs the information from the paper form into a computer system, the Texas secretary of state’s office compares applicant information against other databases before sending a list of accepted voters out to be added to voter rolls.

Supporters of online voter registration not only argue that it makes the right to vote more accessible to all citizens, but that it would save on the cost of paper and processing. Without the need for reprinting voter registration forms each time legislation changes, secure online forms run from government databases can – and are, according to the currently available online form from the Secretary of State’s Office – be updated to reflect the most accurate information a person registering needs.

The LWV said that “at all levels” the organization supports the availability of online voter registration, for reasons aside from simply cost as well.

“It can be done safely and securely,” said Letson on the subject,  It results in a more accurate voter database, with fewer errors than hand-written forms that must be entered by clerks into the database.”

However, no matter what way a person chooses to apply to register to vote in the upcoming Texas elections, the way LWV described the current situation framed communication between citizens and administrators as of the utmost importance.

According to Letson, election administrators have a better chance to help voters avoid being rejected if the voter will call in advance of sending in their application to vote by mail.

The LWV has also scheduled multiple voter registration events for the end of the week, leading up to the Jan. 31 deadline:

  • Friday, Jan. 28
    • 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. || Carniceria La Popular on SE 3rd
      • A translator will be present to assist those whose primary language is in Spanish.
  • Saturday, Jan. 29
    • 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. || United Supermarket at 1501 Amarillo Blvd East
    • Noon – 4 p.m. || Amigo’s on I-40 East

More information on how to register to vote on the High Plains can be found here, as well as important dates and locations for the upcoming elections as updated by Your Local Election HQ.