FILE - Demonstrators join a rally to protest proposed voting bills on the steps of the Texas Capitol on July 13, 2021, in Austin, Texas. A sweeping new Texas voting law that Republicans muscled through the Legislature last year over dramatic protests is drawing fire again, even before some of the most contentious restrictions and changes kick in ahead of the state's first-in-the nation primary. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

For the past four decades, Pam Gaskin has taken pride in her vote. A former board member with the League of Women Voters and a voting activist, Gaskin makes sure she votes early, and in recent years, has taken to voting by mail.

She knows everything there is to know about voting. So to say she was surprised when she was notified that her mail-in ballot was rejected, would be an understatement.

“I got this letter in the mail that says that my ballot by-mail application was rejected. The letter said, ‘Through no fault of yours, I’ve determined that your application is defective’,” Gaskin said.  

Gaskin, who wasn’t clear on the reason for rejection, resubmitted her application. But she fears others won’t.

A serious problem

With less than a month left to vote by mail in the March primary election, hundreds of applications for mail-in ballots are being rejected as both Texas voters and local election officials decipher new ID requirements enacted by Republican lawmakers.

It’s been a fog of errors, delays and miscommunications as election officials navigate new rules for casting votes by mail. Hundreds of applications are being rejected — in many cases because voters appear to not know the new rules. Local election workers themselves are still deciphering the procedures, and say they’ve been hampered by a lack of information from the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

In some of the state’s biggest counties, more than one-fourth requests submitted so far are being rejected. One reason? For the first time, voters are required to submit their Social Security number or Texas driver’s license number. And it has to be the same form of I.D. they used when they first registered.

“The language on the application is inartful and confusing…”You Must Provide ONE…” but then the ONE that you provide is the wrong ONE and you have to guess because the early voting coordinator is prohibited from telling you what piece of ID you used when you first registered to vote,” Gaskin said. “It reminds me of ‘how many jelly beans are in this jar’ or ‘how many bubbles does a bar of soap make.’” 

During the 2020 election cycle, amid some of the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic, Harris County expanded access to the ballot box, creating drive-through voting and opening 24-hour polling places. Both are now illegal.

Republicans say those changes were only meant to be a temporary response to the COVID health crisis and that the new law will boost election security. But Democrats, like Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who oversees the local county government, says it’s suppression.

“The folks that fail to turn out are generally the communities of color, working people. You know, people for whom climbing over these obstacles is no small feat. And so I think that the folks that have passed the laws that led us to where we are today know that. The challenge with everything that’s going on is it undermines trust in our electoral system,” said Hidalgo. “The challenge with everything that’s going on is it undermines trust in our electoral system.”

Election officials are urging people to put all the information they can on their application — email address, telephone number, Social Security number, driver’s license number, everything.

And Gaskin says whatever you do, don’t let voter suppression win. 

“Call and write your state legislators. Call and write your US Congressman. Most importantly, DO NOT GIVE UP. VOTE AND MAKE SURE THAT YOUR FAMILY, NEIGHBORS, CHURCH MEMBERS ALL VOTE,” she said. “We cannot get tired or weary, we cannot let the destroyers of democracy prevail.”