AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Democratic candidate for governor Beto O’Rourke announced his team will start an education outreach campaign to 2 million Texans about changes in voting rules under new state election laws.
O’Rourke announced the campaign to a group of reporters outside the Texas capitol on Friday, where the sounds of honking and cheers from drivers recognizing the Democrat frequently paused his remarks.
The former El Paso Congressman said this campaign is in response to the U.S. Senate’s failure to pass federal voting rights legislation, which was in-part designed to correct new laws from Republican states like Texas.
“Texas has been at the epicenter of this fight for the right to vote,” O’Rourke said. “We are clear eyed about the fact that the federal government nor anyone else is going to help us out in Texas. It is up to us to help ourselves and this is how we are going to do that.”
Starting in February, more than 44,000 volunteers from O’Rourke’s campaign will start a blitz of door-knocking, phone calls, texts and letter writing to educate voters on navigating the changes passed from Senate Bill 1, dubbed by Republicans as the “elections integrity” bill.
“In the immediate term, we can make sure that we educate each other about what it takes to vote now in Texas,” O’Rourke said. “So that no one — be they Republican, Democrat or Independent or otherwise — is denied this critically important constitutional rights to be heard in our democracy.”
Texas lawmakers passed sweeping changes to its election laws in the fall of 2021, adding more voting restrictions after Democrats spent months protesting what they say are efforts to weaken minority turnout and preserve the GOP’s dominance.
O’Rourke also said he hopes this campaign will help with the confusion some voters feel around the changed rules for requesting a mail-in ballot — an issue receiving increasing attention after several counties have reported having to reject high percentages of voters’ requests.
Those new rules require voters to provide the identification number they used when first registering to vote in Texas, either their drivers’ license or social security number. However, if that number does not match what is on record, their request for a mail-in ballot will be automatically rejected. Texans can re-apply if rejected, and it is suggested to provide both numbers if they cannot remember. However, local county election officials are not allowed to tell voters this, because it can be seen as promoting mail-in voting — which is now illegal under SB 1.
“That’s because this new law was intended to make it harder to vote. And it looks like it’s working,” O’Rourke said.
Republicans have repeatedly defended their law, saying it will help prevent election fraud and make voting easier, often pointing to a provision that increases the minimum number of early voting hours.
There are only 10 days left for Texans to register to vote for the March 1 primary election, where voters will select nominees for the Democratic or Republican parties in statewide races. Texans can double check their registration status here. More information on how to register to vote or request absentee ballots can also be found on the Texas Secretary of State’s website.