Kelly Mena and Tami Luhby, CNN
Photographs by Heather Fulbright, CNN
Published Feb. 25, 2022
As Texas voters head to polls this year, they’ve had to deal with a slew of election law changes, including limited early voting hours and increased mail-in voting requirements.
Texas was among the 19 states where, in response to baseless claims of voter fraud and the increased use of mail-in ballots in the 2020 general election, GOP-led legislatures enacted a slew of voting restrictions in 2021. Many of those changes will be tested for the first time this year during the critical midterm cycle.
Lone Star State voters have already been dealing with the challenges associated with the new rules as a high rate of mail-in ballot applications and mail-in ballots have been rejected heading into the primary on March 1. Texas Republicans argue the changes will improve the security and integrity of the elections. Voting rights advocates and Democrats worry it will disenfranchise voters, particularly voters of color.
CNN Politics spoke with a diverse group of voters about their experience voting in the primary and their thoughts on the changes.
John Perry Jr. Fresno, Texas New restrictions can’t stop voters
John Perry Jr. knows how important voting is. The 72-year-old first cast a ballot in 1969 at the height of the civil rights movement and a poignant time for Black Americans. Perry told CNN that he was inspired to vote from a young age when he had a traumatic encounter with police while playing with friends at a park when he was 17.
“That kind of radicalized me. My hometown was (sic) pretty small Black population. So regularly I and others were the recipients of what I call drive-by racism. They would drive by and roll the windows down and shout out, ‘Go back to Africa,’ ” said Perry, who is originally from Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
The harrowing experience, which left him with a permanent scar over his right eye, led to him becoming civically active, including being involved in voter registration drives and education. Perry doesn’t agree with the new restrictions on voting and said the laws aren’t stopping him, especially as he remembers the struggle Black Americans endured for the right to vote.
“Those people were literally killed, murdered for the right to vote. Sitting in a voter registration line could get you killed, get you fired from your job, your house burned down. So no matter what they’re throwing at us right now, nothing compares to that. Now if we can endure that and overcome that, then whatever the state of Texas, Georgia and all these other states, we can get around that too,” Perry said.
Perry, though eligible for mail-in voting, said he would never take that option. He enjoys going in person. This year, mail-in voting has hit a few snags, including high rejection rates and some ballots even going to the wrong office.
“I like the idea of showing up at a polling place, being physically present for it. I’ve never voted by mail. And I never will,” Perry, a Democrat, told CNN.
Perry voted early, in person at his regular polling place in Fresno, Texas, without issue. Coincidentally, the county where Perry resides, Fort Bend, just renamed its law library after Willie Melton, a civil rights activist who challenged the county’s all-White primaries. The case eventually went to the US Supreme Court and ended the system of all-White primaries in Fort Bend County.
Sharon Bennett McKinney, Texas Unable to vote in the primary
A fractured hip has left Sharon Bennett housebound until a community group is able to add a ramp to her mobile home for her wheelchair.
When she learned earlier this month that a primary was taking place, the McKinney, Texas, resident hoped she could vote by mail. She had difficulty finding information online, and by the time she called the Collin County election office in mid-February, the deadline had passed.
Bennett, 59, is frustrated that the state doesn’t mail information about elections so residents can know what to do. And she’s upset that she will miss the primary.
“How can I get my thoughts out there when I can’t get in there to vote?” said Bennett, a Republican.
Bennett requested the application for a mail-in ballot for the November election. But she’s still worried she’ll be left out of that election too.
“I’m concerned that it won’t get here, and I’m concerned that it won’t get counted correctly,” Bennett said. “I don’t trust it. I don’t want to do it, but I will do it if I have to, if that’s the only way I can vote.”
Elizabeth Alanis Houston, Texas Drive-thru was a great option for those immunocompromised
Elizabeth Alanis is immunocompromised and loved drive-thru voting when it became an option in the 2020 general election amid the pandemic. The 50-year-old teacher said drive-thru voting was easy, efficient and perfect for those who wanted to make their voice heard without putting themselves at risk of Covid-19. However, now the option is banned, and she was forced to vote early in person.
“I really was grateful that they offered it, but now it’s no longer going to be a viable choice. I’m probably, from this point forward, going to always try to do early voting so that I don’t get caught in a crowd,” Alanis told CNN. Being immunocompromised is not one of the categories for eligibility to vote by mail.
Alanis, who is a Democrat and Mexican American, said she feels the new rules are narrowing voting options, and she, like many other children of immigrants, was “raised by my parents that are firm believers in making your vote count.” Alanis, a teacher and mother to a 16-year-old daughter, worries about the future of voting in her home state.
“I have a daughter who in a couple of years is going to be able to vote and what we’re seeing now, just, it’s disheartening. … It makes you feel as if it’s not going to make it easier for the next generation. And you always want to make things easy, because when things aren’t easy for people, they have a tendency not to do them,” said Alanis.
Alanis ended up voting early, a process that took her about 15 minutes. The Texas native was pleased that it didn’t take too long and that there wasn’t a crowd.
Leonard and Ina Lachmann
Kemah, Texas Challenges to voting by mail
After having a smooth time voting by mail in the 2020 presidential election, Leonard and Ina Lachmann planned to do the same in this year’s primary. But it wasn’t so easy this time — at least not for Ina, 69.
Leonard’s application to vote by mail just showed up one day. He submitted it and received his ballot.
But his wife never received hers. So in late January, the Kemah, Texas, couple searched online how to request an application, filled out a form with her contact information and waited for the application to arrive.
About a week later, Ina received an email that the retired educator almost overlooked. It contained the application that she had to print and complete — a barrier for those without computers and printers, the couple pointed out.
Then they encountered another problem: Neither the application nor the email listed an address for where to send the form.
Leonard, 70, replied to the email but didn’t receive a response. After several days, he searched online for where to mail applications for Galveston County, and the address popped up.
About a week or so later, the ballot showed up. Ina followed all the instructions, including the new requirement to include either her driver’s license number or the last four digits of her Social Security number on one of the multiple envelopes.
And the last hurdle? They didn’t know how much postage to include. They weighed it on a postal scale, and it came in at just under 2 ounces. So they put on two stamps — just to make sure it would arrive.
Ina, who registered as a Republican this year, confessed that had her husband not helped her, she would have given up and gone to an early voting location, though she prefers to avoid crowds during Covid because she is dia
Texas voters sound off on election law changes
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