A big mistake in the lead up to primary voting underscores the anxiety around misinformation on elections and barriers to voting.
Early this month, Nueces County resident Linda White received a surprising piece of mail: Form 5-22a, a “notice to voter who must provide identification.” The notice, sent by the county clerk’s office, warned that her vote wouldn’t count unless she attached a copy of a government photo ID to her mail-in ballot. The problem was, it wasn’t true.
“I’m 70 years old, and I’ve been voting in Nueces County since I was 18,” said White, who received one of the letters. “I sent in multiple copies of ID so they’d be sure and know who I was.” She called the experience “very, very intimidating.”
White was one of around 1,500 mail-in voters—people over 65, voters with disabilities, and citizens out of the country on election day—who received proof-of-ID notices by mistake. “We had an unfortunate incident, very unintentional,” Nueces County Clerk Kara Sands told county commissioners during a meeting on Wednesday. “We feel terrible about it, my staff feels terrible about it, and we have implemented procedures to prevent this from happening again.”
Newly registered voters who vote by mail may get proof-of-ID notices if the statewide voter registration system flagged a discrepancy on their forms, but not people who have voted in the same county for decades. According to Sands, her office was only supposed to send a few proof-of-ID letters for this election, but a “miscommunication” with the printers led to a flood of erroneous notices.
Sands says she realized the gravity of the situation last week after her office started getting calls from startled voters. Last Friday, she sent out letters apologizing to voters who wrongly received a notice, telling them to disregard it. She’s now urging any confused voters to call her office (which can be reached at 361-888-0865).
“I was sick to my stomach when I found out about it,” Sands told the Observer.
The mistake appears to be isolated to Nueces County. “We are not aware of any other counties sending ID requests to mail voters that shouldn’t be receiving them,” a spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State’s office said in an email. But 1,500 mail-in voters is a significant chunk in Nueces County. Of the nearly 25,000 voters in the county’s 2018 primary election, about 700 people cast mail-in ballots on the GOP side and 1,900 for the Democrats.
On Wednesday, the local Democratic party held a press conference outside the commissioners court meeting demanding that the county establish a voter protection committee to investigate and review such problems. Nueces Democratic Party Chairwoman Coretta Graham said the episode highlights the anxiety about any misinformation or barriers around elections and voting. That’s particularly true in a region with a long history of voter suppression and intimidation. Just last year, the state wrongly challenged the voter registrations of tens of thousands of naturalized citizens.
“We don’t want to take anything that might hinder a person’s right to vote lightly,” Graham said. “At this point, we just don’t know if someone has decided not to vote because of getting one of these letters.”
White, who received a bogus notice and joined Wednesday’s press conference, said she worries some who received notices have already given up on voting this election. A retired school teacher, she’s concerned not everyone is able to quickly scrounge up copies of ID to send. “A lot of other people don’t have easy access to computers, copiers, and quite frankly wouldn’t go through the trouble,” White said. “They might just say, ‘Oh well, I won’t vote,’ and then throw it away.”
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