Who can legally send out an application for mail-in voting under new Texas voting law?

Your Election Questions Answered: Political parties and candidates are allowed to solicit mail ballots, but election workers are not.

Your 2022 Election Questions Answered. (KSAT)

Get more election news on KSAT’s Vote 2022 page. Reminder: Monday, Jan. 31, is the last day to register to vote for the March primaries.

Senate Bill 1 made widespread changes to the voting process in Texas that are in now effect for the 2022 election year. One of those changes includes new rules about who can send out applications for mail-in ballots unsolicited.

It’s led to some confusion from KSAT viewers who have received applications in the mail.

One KSAT viewer emailed us this question:

“Just received an unsolicited ballot application form partially completed from the (candidate’s name) Campaign. Isn’t this a state felony per the new voting amendment?”

The answer to his question is — No. It’s NOT illegal for a candidate, campaign or political party to send out an application.

What IS illegal under the new law is for any employee or officer of the state, including election officials, to send one out to anyone who did not request it. If they do, they face a felony charge.

In other words, county elections clerks are forbidden to solicit mail-in ballots, but political parties and candidates can.

The penalty for state employees who do send out unsolicited mail-in ballots includes a mandatory minimum of six months of imprisonment and up to $10,000 in fines.

Here’s how the law is stated:

Sec. 84.0111. DISTRIBUTION OF APPLICATION FORM. (a) Except as provided by Subsection (c) or as otherwise authorized by this code, an officer or employee of this state or of a political subdivision of this state may not distribute an application form for an early voting ballot to a person who did not request an application under Section 84.001. (b) An officer or employee of this state or of a political subdivision of this state may not use public funds to facilitate the distribution by another person of an application form for an early voting ballot to a person who did not request an application under Section 84.001. (c) A political party or a candidate for office may distribute an application form for an early voting ballot to a person who did not request an application under Section 84.001.

Candidates of both parties are taking advantage of the provision.

As reported in the Texas Tribune, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, has been facing criticism for sending out unsolicited mail-in ballot applications to voters who are 65 and older. Some Democrats say it’s hypocritical given the Republican-backed legislation.

The Tribune also reports that two Texas election officials have filed a lawsuit over the new law. The lawsuit will be heard in a San Antonio courtroom.

Part of the lawsuit reads:

“Plaintiff Isabel Longoria, who serves as Elections Administrator for Harris County, and Plaintiff Cathy Morgan, who serves as a volunteer deputy registrar in Williamson and Travis Counties, want to encourage Texas voters to exercise their fundamental right to vote and to inform them about the lawful methods for doing so. Among other things, they want to encourage, suggest, and request that voters who are or may be eligible to vote by mail submit a timely application to do so.”

Texas law provides for early voting by mail in certain circumstances and the plaintiffs say the new law keeps them from informing voters about their rights.

“There is no legitimate purpose in suppressing speech in order to suppress the lawful exercise of the right to vote,” the lawsuit states.

The law about who can send out an unsolicited application is not the only change that’s affecting mail-in voting this year. Click here to read about other changes to the process.

The County Clerk’s Office received dozens of request for ballot applications when those requests should have been sent to the Elections Office.
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About the Author:

Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 20 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.