New voting restrictions tripped up voters with disabilities in the Texas primaries in March, offering a foretaste of what to expect in other states with similar constraints on vote-casting, advocates for people with disabilities say.
Some voters did not receive absentee ballots, while others had those ballots rejected, Molly Broadway of Disability Rights Texas told the Pew Charitable Trusts. Some 23,000 absentee ballots, amounting to 13 percent of the total in Texas, were rejected, up from about 2 percent in past primaries, Pew reported. Reasons cited for the rejections included issues with signatures and identification. Restrictions making it illegal to provide some forms of assistance to voters also contributed to the higher rejection rate, critics of the new law say.
New legislation across several states ostensibly designed to combat illegal voting is restricting the use of absentee balloting, access to ballot drop boxes, the provision of assistance at polling places, and other avenues that people with disabilities have come to depend on to cast their votes. As of January, legislators in 27 states had introduced or passed bills with, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, similarly restrictive voting provisions.
The Texas law, which went into effect in December 2021, imposed new rules on people providing assistance at the polls, subjecting them to criminal penalties for offering help that fell outside those regulations. It also required that applicants for absentee ballots submit either a driver's license number or a partial Social Security number on their absentee ballot application, and that this number match the number they originally provided on their voter registration form. But many applicants cannot remember which number they used on their voter registrations, resulting in the rejection of hundreds of applications. Compounding the problem, election officials are forbidden by the new law from contacting people in order to correct absentee ballot applications they have rejected, making them liable to imprisonment and heavy fines if they do.
People with disabilities represent a sixth of all voters, Rebecca Cokley, the U.S. disability rights program officer at the Ford Foundation, told Pew. “Any attempt to suppress the vote of any community is going to disproportionately harm the disabled community,” she said. “It's the most fundamental right in our democracy.”