Empty Checkboxes on Mail-in Ballot Requests Mean Extra Work for TX Local Officials

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Empty checkboxes are creating some unexpected work for local election officials in Texas in the upcoming gubernatorial primary. The San Antonio Express-News has more:

Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen has received hundreds of vote-by-mail applications that don’t specify whether the voters want a Democratic or Republican primary ballot.
She’ll have to send them new applications, formally rejecting their primary-election applications and giving them a chance to try again.

It means additional time and expense for her office — and for others around Texas dealing with the same issue — and potential confusion for voters who may not have noticed that there was a primary-election box to check off on their application.

But the incomplete applications aren’t coming out of nowhere.

They stem from a mail-in ballot push by Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign as the Republican incumbent works to drive up the margin of his expected victory in November.

Abbott’s campaign sent voters a number of mail-in ballot applications — his spokesman wouldn’t say how many — that didn’t have the primary-election box checked, as a partisan mailout typically would.

That was by design, according to Abbott’s campaign, which among its efforts is trying to attract voters who may not vote in the GOP primary in a non-presidential year but could be wooed for the general election.

If voters don’t check either the Republican or Democratic primary election, they still will be eligible for mail-in ballots for the Nov. 6 general election, assuming they meet other criteria.

But that’s not the end of it for local officials who oversee elections.

“They have to get a rejection letter because the only election we’re running right now is the primary. We have to send it to them and say, ‘You didn’t put a party on it,’” said Callanen. “What we have to do is send them another application.”

Election supervisors can’t assume that the voters want a GOP primary ballot just because the application form includes Abbott’s campaign logo. There’s a good reason for that, as demonstrated by Callanen’s experience — a handful of those who sent the Abbott-initiated applications filled in the primary box themselves and requested Democratic ballots.

The Abbott campaign’s mail-in ballot drive targets voters who are 65 and older, said campaign spokesman John Wittman. They are among those allowed to vote by mail.

“Our campaign is running the most aggressive primary and general election mail-in ballot application drive possible and sent both non-checked and pre-checked applications depending on the modeling,” Wittman said. “In addition to mail pieces, we are targeting these voters via phone calls and digital ads…

Callanen said it will cost $1 to $1.25 for each rejection letter and application that goes out, including staff time. Howard County Elections Administrator Jodi Duck — who said she got about 50 to 60 such applications with the Abbott logo and the primary election not filled out – also said it would cost time and postage to process the rejections.

Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson said the Abbott campaign is “soaking up the time and attention” of county officials at a busy juncture.

“It could create some chaos,” Jillson said. “They (the Abbott campaign) either didn’t think it through, or they’ve got their own priorities ahead of the officials who run the elections and the voters who participate in them.”

This story is just the latest reminder that while candidates and election officials occupy roughly the same space in the lead-up to an election, their priorities and incentives are very different. Those clashing priorities can create surprises – and extra work and costs – for election officials. It’s unavoidable, and thus something election officials should always expect even if it isn’t something for which they’ve planned. Stay tuned …

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