by Kevin Henning
for the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, September 10, 2021
The Vote at Home Institute has just completed reviewing state voting policies. They have ranked them with five stars being the most voter friendly and one star being the worst. It’s a great way to see how states measure up. As you might imagine Texas only got one star where states like Utah, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada and Hawaii got five. Connecticut, a liberal leaning state, also got just one star so this evaluation wasn’t a liberal/conservative comparison although more progressive states often tend to be more voter friendly.
The Vote at Home Institute is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to ensuring the security of our elections and putting voters’ needs first. Vote at home, also called vote by mail or absentee voting, is increasing throughout the United States because it is a great way to improve voter turnout and reduce election costs. It will also maintain or enhance security. In 2020, we had a record 183 million citizens vote with 70 million opting to vote at home via absentee ballots. In Kendall County 26,576 folks voted (78.61% of registered voters) in the 2020 Presidential Election, with 2,576 votes cast using absentee ballots.
The criteria used to evaluate the states are not complicated. No-excuse absentee voting where any voter can request that a ballot be mailed to them was one of the most important criteria. Mailing a ballot to all registered voters, which further increases the likelihood folks will vote, was another important element to increase a state’s score. Online and same-day voter registration is also a great way to make life easier for the voter. Being able to drop ballots in secure drop boxes or at an election office (allowed in Kendall County in 2020) prior to early voting and election day helped states score better. Texas did score points for its two weeks of early voting but was downgraded because in 2019 the Legislature passed a law that made illegal the practice of having a day or two of early voting at locations like Comfort. On the positive side, thanks to great work by our election office, countywide voting was implemented in 2019. This is definitely voter friendly and means we can vote in any polling place in the county, not just in our precinct.
The new election equipment placed into service by Kendall County for the November 2020 election performed wonderfully and had the advantage of creating a paper ballot that could be used to verify election results. This is not unlike what happens with a vote-at-home system. However, the vote-at-home system is much easier for the voter because voters don’t have to take time off work, travel to a polling place or stand in lines. This can be particularly important during times of a pandemic. Voters can spend as long as they want reviewing their ballot at home. They are not hurried to complete their ballot, which is often long and not especially clear. Finally, voters with handicaps or those who lack transportation don’t need to figure out how to get to the polling place.
In a vote-at-home system, envelopes are coded to match each voter and are sent to voters securely through the U.S. Postal Service. Ballots are not forwarded if voters have moved without updating their registration information. Voter lists are compared to updated address databases. Envelopes containing ballots are returned with signatures that must be verified against the voter registration file. This is done in Kendall County by a board made up of people from both parties. After the signature is verified, the ballot is removed from the envelope and the ballot heads to the counting process, ensuring secrecy. These protections ensure secrecy and reduce the possibility of voter fraud.
The right to vote is a very special privilege. Unfortunately, in Texas, voter suppression is alive and well. It takes the form of extreme gerrymandering, over-the-top ID requirements, and some of the most restrictive voter registration rules in the country. Recently enacted Texas voting laws will further reduce access to the polls. Hopefully, federal legislation will be approved to demolish the hurdles just enacted. In Kendall County, our election officials and poll workers who come from both parties do an outstanding job of conducting our elections. They are our protectors of democracy and have demonstrated that our elections are safe and secure even in a pandemic. We should not be restricting access to the vote but making it easier. Expanding mail-in and absentee voting is a great way to improve voter turnout, strengthen our election security and maintain our democracy for future generations.