by: Kelsey Thompson
TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — When gearing up for the 2020 general election, Travis County Judge Andy Brown credited election officials with finding new and innovative ways to expand voting measures to make casting a ballot as safe and accessible as possible during a pandemic.
With Gov. Greg Abbott’s signing of Senate Bill 1 into law in September, Brown said the measure has led to an increasing number of mail-in ballot requests being rejected and limitations on how poll workers can best serve voters with disabilities. He raised these concerns during a hearing hosted by the Committee on House Administration titled “Voting in America: Ensuring Free and Fair Access to the Ballot in Texas.”
“The 2020 election presented election officials with new challenges due to COVID,” he said. “Election officials had to come up with last-minute innovations to make voting safe and accessible during a pandemic. SB1 was a direct result of the legislature targeting these new and successful innovations that we implemented in 2020.”
In a September release announcing the signing of SB1 into law, Abbott said the measure would establish “trust and confidence in our voting systems.”
“Senate Bill 1 ensures trust and confidence in our elections system — and most importantly, it makes it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” Abbott said in the release. “Safe and secure elections are critical to the foundation of our state, and I thank Senator Hughes and Representative Murr for their leadership on this important issue. I am proud to sign Senate Bill 1 into law to uphold the integrity of our elections in Texas.”
During his testimony, Brown questioned the motivations behind SB1 and said they’ve hindered voter accessibility rather than ensuring secure elections.
During the 2022 March primary election, Brown said the county saw a substantial increase in rejected ballots. Of the more than 11,600 mail-in ballot requests received, approximately 16% were initially slated for rejection.
Following phone calls and instructional assistance from county staff to revise those requests, the percent of rejected mail-in requests dropped to 8%. By comparison, more than 9,000 mail-in ballot requests were received in the March 2018 primary election, and only 1.7% of those were rejected.
Brown said instead of expanding limits on voting, officials should work to expand voters rights through measures such as drive-thru polling locations and extended voting hours.
“Senate Bill 1 has made it more difficult for voters to cast their ballots. It has stifled innovation. It has undermined trust in our democracy, and it has chipped away at one of the foundational stones of our electoral process.”