Herman: Abbott targets older voters for mail ballots

Gov. Greg Abbott, in addition to finding his way into many Texans’ email and snail-mail inboxes, now is showing up on some folks’ phones.

And I’ve heard from some readers who are concerned about a recent phone call from their governor.

“Hi,” he says in the recorded call, “this is Gov. Greg Abbott. I recently mailed you an application for an absentee ballot for the upcoming election. By signing and submitting this application, you will be able to vote by mail in the March primary election, as well as the general election in November.

“Don’t miss your chance to vote. Make sure that you sign this application and mail it in immediately to receive your absentee ballot. If you haven’t received your application by mail by the end of the week, please call me at 512 496-9336 and we’ll send out another application. This call is paid for by Texans for Greg Abbott.”

Abbott campaign spokesman John Wittman says the phone calls and accompanying mail piece are aimed at “a targeted model of (age) 65+ presidential cycle voters.” He would not say whether the campaign specifically targeted Republican voters or went to a wider audience.

RELATED: House approves Senate’s mail-in ballot fraud bill

There’s nothing wrong with that, and, as far as I can tell, there’s nothing illegal or unethical about the effort.

But it’s important that those of you who get the call understand the deal. I heard from two readers who, perhaps understandably, misunderstood the call and thought Abbott said he was sending ballots by mail.

He can’t do that. Mailed ballots only can be distributed by election officials. Abbott, however, is as free as anyone to send applications for mail-in ballots.

It’s also important that you know that if you apply for and receive a mail ballot, you could face some questions if you decide instead to vote in person the traditional way. Poll workers will know who’s received ballots by mail.

So what do you do if you apply for and receive a mail ballot but then decide to vote in person? Sam Taylor, spokesman for Texas Secretary of State Rolando B. Pablos, says the easiest way to do that would be to bring the mail ballot to your polling place and have it canceled there.

“Otherwise, the voter would have to vote a provisional ballot, and it only counts if their mail ballot doesn’t arrive at the early voting clerk’s office,” Taylor said.

It’s that whole one-vote-per-person thing.

Voting by mail (and there’s an important change in the procedure this year) is limited to folks in one or more of these categories: 65 or older, disabled, out of the county during early voting and on election day or in jail but otherwise eligible.

The early voting period for the March 6 primaries is Feb. 20 to March 2. Feb. 23 is the deadline for applying for a mail ballot. More information voting by mail is on the Texas secretary of state’s website.

Most importantly, Feb. 5 is the deadline for voter registration if you’re not currently on the books.

This year, as a result of action by the Legislature in 2017, you cannot apply for a mail ballot simply via email or fax. Requests must be mailed in with an original signature. This was a change pushed by GOP lawmakers who believe mailed ballots have been a source of voter fraud. Democrats, however, saw the change as a solution to a nonexistent problem, and one that could make it more difficult for some Texans to vote.

READ: Here’s how to register to vote in Texas

Abbott is doing his part — most likely for folks he perceives as his voters — to get mail ballots to folks who might need them. His robocall is followed up with a mail piece that says, “Governor Greg Abbott has made it easy to vote by mail in the March 6th Republican Primary Election.”

It’s kind of a dual-purpose piece: part public service, “Please sign the personalized Vote-By-Mail Application we’ve pre-addressed for YOU,” and part campaign ad, albeit with a grammatically challenged message. See if you can spot the problem: “Keep Texas Strong — defeat the Bernie Sander’s machine.”

Our apologies to the apostrophe, perhaps the most misunderstood and misused punctuation mark of all. (Although colons — full and semi — also are up there.)

As far as I know, there is no Bernie Sander machine trying to make Texas weak.

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