Texas ordered to immediately fix flaws in method used to reject some mail-in ballots

Election officials expect a deluge of mail-in ballots this November.                    Credit: Charlie Pearce for The Texas Tribune
Election officials expect a deluge of mail-in ballots this November. Credit: Charlie Pearce for The Texas Tribune

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As Texas prepares for an expected deluge of mail-in votes in November, a federal judge has found that one facet of the state’s signature verification rules for those ballots is unconstitutional and must be reworked for the upcoming election.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia on Tuesday ruled the state’s process for determining whether there is a mismatch between a voter’s signature on their ballot envelope and the signature the voter used on their application to vote by mail “plainly violates certain voters’ constitutional rights.”

In his order, Garcia ordered the Texas secretary of state to inform local election officials within 10 days that it is unconstitutional to reject a ballot based on a "perceived signature mismatch" without first notifying the voter about the mismatch and giving the voter a “meaningful opportunity” to correct the issue.

Additionally, to "protects voters' rights" in the upcoming election, Garcia said the Texas secretary of state must either advise local election officials that mail-in ballots may not be rejected using the existing signature comparison process, or notify them that they are required to set up a rejection notification system that would allow voters to challenge a rejection.

The ruling comes more than a year after two voters, George Richardson of Brazos County and Rosalie Weisfeld of McAllen, filed suit after their mail-in ballots were rejected by local officials who decided the signatures on the envelopes in which their ballots were returned were not theirs. The voters — joined by groups that represent Texans with disabilities, veterans and young voters — argued the state law that allows local election officials to reject mail-in ballots based on mismatching signatures violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

In his order, Garcia agreed and said the state is creating a “severe” burden for voters whose ballots are rejected because they are given late notice of that rejection and are not offered a “meaningful opportunity” to “cure” their ballot.

“As a result, those voters face complete disenfranchisement, and thus, their right to vote is at stake,” Garcia wrote.