Early Voting Set to Begin in Texas Under State’s Tough New Election Rules
AUSTIN, Texas — Texans will begin heading to the polls Monday for early voting in the 2022 primary elections. The contests, the first to be held under the state’s restrictive new voting rules, have already been marred by controversial voting roll purges and reports of wide scale rejection of mail-in ballots.
In the run-up to the state’s March 1 Republican and Democratic primaries, more than 17 million Texans are currently registered to vote.
As previously reported by The Well News, several voting rights groups, including the ACLU of Texas, are suing the Secretary of State’s office over its refusal to turn over documents related to the proposed removal of more than 11,000 registered voters that the state flagged as noncitizens.
Later, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim, a number of county election officials found that an overwhelming number of the voters on the purge list were actually born or naturalized citizens.
The controversy is a reprise of a voting roll purge dispute that occurred in 2019 after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered then-Secretary of State David Whitley to prosecute almost 100,000 legitimate Texas voters based on faulty data.
After a district court found the program unlawful, Texas agreed to reform the purge process so that naturalized citizens wouldn’t be falsely flagged.
New Voting Rules
Texas is one of several Republican-controlled states, including, among others, Arizona, Florida and Georgia, that have enacted new voting restrictions since the 2020 election. In an effort to block the adoption of the new rules more than 50 Democratic Texas lawmakers fled to Washington, D.C., last summer to deny Republicans the quorum they needed to conduct the state’s business.
In the end, after some 38 days, the Democrats went home, the Republicans passed the restrictive voting legislation, and Abbott signed it into law.
The latest controversy related to the 2022 election involves mail-in voting, which came to the fore as a public safety measure during the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this month, election officials in Harris County, Texas, a Democratic stronghold that includes the city of Houston, announced that about 40% of the mail-in ballots they’d received up to that time would not be counted because they were missing newly required information or signatures.
Most were missing mandatory identification such as voter ID or Social Security numbers, according to the Harris County Elections Administrator’s office.
The issue was first reported by The Texas Tribune. The newspaper reported similar issues in the suburban Austin counties of Hays and Williamson, where about 30% of mail ballots received so far didn’t meet the new ID requirements.
Under the new law, county election officials are required to notify voters that their ballots have been rejected and why, and then give the voters a chance to correct the problems. But time is of the essence as corrected ballots must be received by election officials by primary day.
New Legislative Maps
In addition to the new voting rules, the March 1 primary is also the first election Texas will hold using its new legislative maps.
When it comes to representation in Congress, Texas is employing a new 38-district congressional map that includes two new House seats the state gained due to population growth identified in the 2020 Census.
The state’s current congressional delegation consists of 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats, and 31 of the 26 incumbents are running for reelection.
Critics of the new map say the Republicans, who controlled the redistricting process, redrew the map to solidify their hold on power. To prove it they point to the two new districts where White voters are in the majority despite the fact most of the population growth in Texas has been attributed to Black and Hispanic voters.
According to the 2020 Census, half of the 4 million residents the state gained in the past 10 years were Hispanic.
Republican leaders in the state have responded to the criticism by saying the districts fully comply with federal laws protecting minority voters from discrimination and also comply with redistricting rules related to district compactness and preserving communities of interest.
There are also a number of statewide races on the ballot; governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and, perhaps most interesting of all, Texas land commissioner.
A full list of who’s on the ballot can be found here.
Texas Land Commissioner
Though most people outside of Texas have probably never heard of the state land commissioner, it is actually the oldest office in the state, predating even that of the governor.
The office manages mineral rights on about 13 million acres of state lands, most of them offshore. Under that rule, it oversees oil and gas revenues which in turn are directed to the Texas Permanent School Fund, which underwrites bonds for K-12 education.
The office is also charged with environmental protection and conservation, and it manages the Alamo historic site in San Antonio.
Making this year’s race particularly noteworthy is the fact it’s wide open, thanks to incumbent George P. Bush’s decision to run for attorney general.
Leading the list of Republicans hoping to succeed Bush is State Senator Dawn Buckingham.
Challenging her for the Republican nomination are a pair of attorneys, Jon Spiers and Rufus Lopez, retired ICE special agent Victor Avila, former district court Judge Don Minton, businessman Ben Armenta, former Texas Real Estate Commissioner Weston Martinez and former congressional candidate Tim Westley.
Among Democrats, the leading candidate is conservationist Jay Kleberg, who previously ran for state representative from El Paso as a Republican, investment manager Michael Lange, mental health policy advocate Sandragrace Martinez, and community organizer Jinny Suh.
Contested Races to Watch
As for other races being contested in the March 1 primary, Abbott is seeking a third term as governor.
His primary challengers include former state Sen. Don Huffines and former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West.
On the Democratic side, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke has statewide name recognition after his 2018 U.S. Senate and 2020 presidential runs.
Also seeking a third term, this one as lieutenant governor, is incumbent Dan Patrick.
Mike Collier, the Democratic nominee in 2018, is running against him.
Attorney General Ken Paxton is seeking a third term, though his tenure has been clouded by a high-profile securities fraud indictment and FBI investigation into claims of malfeasance in office.
His primary challengers include the aforementioned George P. Bush, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert.
They are all arguing Paxton is unfit for office due to his ethical baggage. Paxton meanwhile is running on his record of suing President Joe Biden on an almost weekly basis and his endorsement by former President Donald Trump.
Other executive branch primary contests include those for agricultural commissioner, comptroller, and railroad commissioner.
Three of nine seats for the Texas Supreme Court are also being contested, as are three seats on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Every seat on both courts is currently held by a Republican.
Every seat in the 31-member Texas Senate is up for election this year because the districts were redrawn by current legislators. Sixteen Republican incumbents were drawn into safe districts for reelection, and two additional Senate seats being vacated by Republicans are seen as a lock for the new GOP candidates running in those districts.
As for the Texas House, there are currently 150 members of the chamber. The new district map for the state House includes 85 safe districts for Republicans and 65 that are either Democratic or lean Democratic.
Dan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.
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