AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas secretary of state’s office is having more trouble than usual getting enough voter registration cards to groups who help Texans register to vote.
Sam Taylor, assistant secretary of state for communications, said supply chain issues have made it harder and more expensive to get paper, which means the secretary of state’s office will be giving out fewer voter registration forms to groups ahead of elections this year.
“We are limited in what we can supply this year, because of the paper shortage and the cost constraints due to the price of paper and the supply of paper,” Taylor told the Texas Tribune.
He told KHOU 11's Melissa Correa that they placed their first bulk order for 128,000 voter registration forms on November 8 but they didn't receive them until Jan. 9.
Newly naturalized citizens impacted
Grace Chimene, the president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, said it is not unusual for the secretary of state to not have enough forms to fill all the requests it gets from groups like hers ahead of elections. This particular shortage, however, is affecting an important part of her group’s work: registering thousands of newly naturalized citizens.
Chimene said in previous years, her group, which has chapters across the state, has been able to get enough forms to pass out at naturalization ceremonies. Often, she said, the group partners with the state to give out several thousand forms at each ceremony.
“The League in Houston registers about 30,000 new citizens every year through these ceremonies in the past,” Chimene said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a mix of in-person and remote ceremonies. Chimene said her group has either been handing out voter registration materials at in-person events or they’ve been sending out packets they put together ahead of time to those new citizens.
Either way, the league and their volunteers often ask for thousands of voter registration forms ahead of these ceremonies.
“It’s a really important job that we do and we value it, and I think the new citizens value it also," Chimene said.
Number of forms limited
Taylor said the secretary of state’s office has been forced to limit each group to 1,000 to 2,000 registration forms per request. He said this shortage is coming at a time when many groups are seeking out new voter registration forms because of a change in Texas’ voter registration laws created under Senate Bill 1, a controversial voting law that went into effect last month.
He said the League of Women Voters in Texas initially requested 16,000 forms and later lowered it to 8,000.
The Houston chapter of the League of Women Voters also received less than a third of what they requested.
"I’ve never had this problem before. I hope we never have this problem again," President Annie Benifield said.
"If we honored all large requests for free voter registration applications to be sent to every single organization who requested them right now, we would likely run out of our entire current supply of forms very quickly," Taylor told KHOU.
Taylor said the voter registration form changed as a result of SB 1, so they basically had to start from scratch.
“The voter registration application changed this year for one reason: It’s because the legislature decided to increase the penalty for illegal voter registration from a class B misdemeanor to a class A misdemeanor,” Taylor explained.
Previously, Taylor said that change had to be reflected on registration applications in order for them to be approved. But, after this story was published Tuesday, he clarified that's not necessarily the case.
“While we have made clear to officials and groups that they should not be distributing the old version of the Voter Registration form, county voter registrars may accept completed voter registration applications on the old form, so long as the application is otherwise valid,” Taylor said in a statement Tuesday. “In other words, using last year’s form in and of itself is not fatal to the voter’s registration application.”
Chimene said all these constraints present serious issues for her group as they try to get voter registration materials together ahead of these large naturalization ceremonies.
“We are treating all organizations that request these the same,” Taylor said. “We are trying to fulfill these requests as fast we can. But the fact is we simply don’t have the supply to honor every single request for free applications.”
No online registration
According to Chimene, this is one of the pitfalls of Texas being among the few states in the country that does not have online voter registration. Supply chain issues are not as big of a problem when you can just direct someone to a website.
She’s also worried about the message this sends to newly naturalized citizens, which she said have been under particular scrutiny by the secretary of state’s office recently. Chimene said the league is worried that newly naturalized, eligible voters are being targeted by the state’s latest focus on potential non-citizen voters.
“We are concerned about it, and we are looking into it,” Chimene said. “It just sort all goes together: not providing the service they are supposed be providing to the citizens of Texas.”
Chimene said the secretary of state’s office has told the league to seek out donations instead of relying on the state for voter registration forms. She said she “didn’t appreciate” this considering the fact her group is a nonpartisan nonprofit. However, Chimene said, her group will try and do what it can.
You can fill out a voter registration form online but you have to print it, sign it and mail it in. The deadline to register is Jan. 31.
This story is from our news partners at the Texas Tribune.