Swamped with voter requests, the Texas secretary of state’s office has become a focus of frustration

A ballot clerk organizes mail-in ballot packages. (Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune)

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It took more than two months of waiting, calling and emailing the Texas secretary of state’s office, but one Dripping Springs woman says earlier this week she and her sister finally received the mail-in ballot applications they requested because they are working out-of-state.

When she called the state’s top office overseeing elections, she said, workers repeatedly told her they couldn’t confirm the status of her application request, and directed her to Hays County, where the women are registered to vote. "I said, ‘I understand that the county is the best place to go. A seasoned voter would know to go to the county,’ " said Alex – a data scientist who asked to be identified by first name only out of fear she’d be targeted for her company’s work on voting rights. “I went to the county initially and they pointed me to y’all. But I’m telling you when someone is on the website requesting this application, no one is there telling them to go to the county.”

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic where there are so many initiatives pointing to the secretary of state’s websites and like pushing people to request mail-in ballots because of COVID,” she said.

Her experience echos complaints about the secretary of state’s office from other Texas voters – tales of repeated phone calls and protracted frustration because there is no transparent way to determine if mail-in ballot applications requests are being processed, or have gotten lost in the shuffle.

In a pandemic-tinged election with voter turnout expected to hit record highs, the state’s top election administrator is being inundated with requests from Texans who want to vote by mail.

As of October 11, the secretary of state reported having mailed out 460,195 mail-in ballot applications since April 2020.

The state acts as a processing center. The office is set up primarily to mail voters forms they need to fill out and send to their appropriate county election office. It’s there, at the local level, where voters can begin tracking the status of when a completed ballot application is received, the ballot is sent out and a completed ballot is returned.