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,” he said.
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.
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.
“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,” he said.
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.”
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 of 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.
"We will ask our supporters, we will ask our friends and our neighbors,” she said. “And find out if we could have somebody donate to get this done.”
Disclosure: The Texas Secretary of State has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.