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I Voted In Texas And It’s Not Jim Crow 2.0

Voting in TX for the first time since Senate Bill 1 (SB 1).

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On February 14, early voting for the primary season started in the Lone Star State for the first time since SB 1, a new law to strengthen election integrity, went into effect last Fall.

Two campaigns greeted me when I arrived at 9 AM at a public library parking lot in the Dallas suburbs. Signs to the polling station were clear, and I walked into a large hall, no waits enroute. Multiple poll officials greeted me and directed me to the lady behind the first desk.

"Good morning, how are you?" she smiled.

"Fine, thank you!" I responded, handing out to her my driver's license. I did not have a voter registration card or any other documentation.

"Great!" she said and scanned my license. "Is this your current address?" I nodded. She could have asked me to confirm my address, but she did not. She looked at me for a microsecond and flipped her tablet screen towards me. It appeared mounted on a swivel to enable such flips.

The center of the screen had a choice: Democratic Primary or Republican Primary. I selected my option, and she said, encouragingly, "OK!" On the next screen, I signed using a stylus. She handed me back my license. The whole process had taken fewer than 45 seconds.

As I moved to walk to the next official in line, she said, "Hold on - I will give you a receipt that confirms that you voted." This was new, I thought. A thermal printer cranked out a small receipt, store-kind; she signed it as the Presiding Judge and gave it to me.

The rest of the process was seamless, as always. Another official asked me to pick a ballot sheet and handed me a five-digit code. She directed me to a row of machines. At one machine, I was instructed to insert the ballot sheet. The thick paper did not appear to catch on to the guides. A screen assured me that this was normal. I keyed in my code and got started. When I finished, I was warned that the ballot sheet would print and the action was irreversible. I asked the machine to cast my vote, and the ballot printed.

Another helpful official directed me to another machine, where I inserted my printed ballot. This was the backup that stays independent of the voting machines. If the primary machines are defective, the backup will carry the recorded vote on another system. I nodded my thanks to another smiling official who sat supervising the backup machine and walked out. Things just could not have been smoother.

Returning home, I was shocked to read two news articles. "Thousands of Texas ballots rejected as new voter ID law causes confusion," screamed a Reuters headline. "Hundreds of mail-in ballots are being returned to Texas voters because they don't comply with new voting law," blared the Texas Tribune.

I had not voted by mail, but I couldn't connect with the articles' claims. I provided a physical driver's license at the polling place and presented my face, the safest form of voter authentication. The new SB 1 law attempts to mimic this for mail-in ballots by requiring voters to fill out a state identification number or the last four digits of a social security number if one is not present. The state requests this information when the voter first asks for a mail-in ballot (in Texas, only voters over 65 automatically get mail-in ballots) and when returning a completed ballot.

"Those numbers must match the information in a voter's record for ballot requests to be accepted and votes to be counted," the Tribune wept. Reuters whines that in Dallas County, the state's second-most populous with 2.6 million residents, officials said they were sending back 26% of mail-in ballots, much higher than in previous elections.

Most people do not believe that requiring minimum identification information on a ballot is discriminatory or racist at a time when citizens are beginning to lose faith in elections. Voters need to present proof of identity for far-less consequential everyday transactions, such as obtaining a library card or getting on a Greyhound bus.

Still, SB 1 has multiple remedies to fix voter errors in these cases. By law, election officials must mail defective ballots back to voters to correct and resend them. If there's not enough time, officials must notify the voter by phone or email. Voters can then correct the error by visiting an elections office in person or use the state's new online ballot tracker to verify the missing information.

Forty-eight states and territories have lifted mask mandates. Schools are open. Life is slowly returning to normal. There is little reason for voters to request mail ballots when polling stations are everywhere, and early voting goes on for two long weeks.

If voters must vote by mail, requiring them to provide the last four digits of their SSN is not Jim Crow 2.0. It is common sense to protect our most prized role in a democracy.

Rajkamal Rao is a columnist and a member of the tippinsights editorial board. He is an American entrepreneur and writes the WorldView column for the Hindu BusinessLine, India's second-largest financial newspaper, on the economy, politics, immigration, foreign affairs, and sports.


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