Local elections official: Mail-in verification process already meets changes ordered by federal ruling

Chase Rogers

Following a federal judge’s ruling finding the state’s signature verification rules for mail-in ballots unconstitutional, Hays County election officials say their current process already meets the required changes.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled Sept. 8 the state’s process for determining a signature mismatch between voters’ signatures on their ballot envelope and signatures provided on said voters’ mail-in applications unconstitutional – requiring the state to change the process before Election Day.

The order from the judge directed the Texas secretary of state to advise county elections officials that it is unconstitutional to reject ballots based on a “perceived signature mismatch” without first notifying the voter and providing a “meaningful opportunity” to correct the issue.

Regarding the federal ruling, Hays County Elections Administrator Jennifer Anderson said the processes already implemented by local elections officials – including notifying voters of ballot rejection by signature mismatch – could partially satisfy the changes ordered by Judge Garcia.

“When there is a signature mismatch our party chairs of all the parties that are represented look at that along with the people that they appoint and vote on whether or not it’s a clear mismatch or not. Then they go ahead and fill out the rejection form and we send those forms the very same day,” Anderson said, explaining Hays County’s process. “There is also a remedy by which you can petition a district judge if you think your ballot was wrongly rejected – we are able to give people the opportunity to do that by sending those out the same day.”

Mail-in ballots are inspected and approved by an early voting ballot board comprised of individuals appointed by all parties represented on the ballot, including Green Party and libertarian appointees. Made up of approximately 75 members, the board determines the eligibility of the county’s mail-in ballots and votes on mismatches.

Because the notice of ballot rejection can take time to return the voter, Anderson said her team is advocating for voters to request, fill out and mail in their ballots as soon as they can to allow ample time to correct issues if they occur. 

“We try really hard to have our voters to apply early, check their registration early, vote early – do all these things early so these issues have time to be fixed if they come up,” Anderson said.

Part of the county education efforts includes their Act Now 2020 campaign, providing county residents with information on how to check their voter registration status, register to vote, vote planning and polling locations. 

The state of Texas offers mail-in ballots to voters; 65 or older, expecting to be outside of their county of residence during the time of the election, eligible voters in jail, or who cite a disability or illness. Due to the prevalence of the novel coronavirus, elections officials across the nation are expecting a record-breaking number of mail-in ballots. 

Three weeks of early voting starts on Oct. 13 and Election Day is slated for Nov. 3. For a full voting schedule and list of polling locations, visit https://hayscountytx.com/departments/elections/. 

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