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Politics

Texas primary is an early test of new voting rules Republicans passed in many states

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Texas Governor Greg Abbott easily survived a primary last night as he seeks another term. In the general election this fall, the Republican will face Democratic primary winner Beto O'Rourke.

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BETO O'ROURKE: We have got to get past the incompetence, the corruption and the cruelty of Greg Abbott. Are you with me on this?

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INSKEEP: Governor Abbott spoke with his supporters in Corpus Christi.

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GREG ABBOTT: Where we have protected your constitutional rights, they threatened to take them away. Where we have promoted exceptionalism, they stoke fearmongering. We will not let them win this state.

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INSKEEP: Houston Public Media's Andrew Schneider is covering this story. Andrew, good morning.

ANDREW SCHNEIDER, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Sounds like you've got a marquee governor's race coming up.

SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Yeah, Abbott's very popular with conservatives. He had several challenges on the far right, but he was able to dispatch them easily. Now we have a race with Beto O'Rourke, former congressman and presidential candidate who made waves in Texas with his challenge to Senator Ted Cruz that was ultimately unsuccessful. He gained a lot of supporters and established an organization then. But pre-primary polling has found Abbott besting O'Rourke, and Texas hasn't elected a Democratic governor in more than three decades.

INSKEEP: I want to dwell on some of the other races in Texas because it's such a big state. It makes such national headlines. Whatever Governor Abbott does is a headline. The attorney general makes a lot of headlines. Other officials do as well. And the attorney general is in a little bit of trouble.

SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Attorney General Ken Paxton is a prominent Trump supporter and a foe of the Biden administration, but he's also been dogged by legal investigations, so he drew three challengers. He did have the highest vote share, but Texas operates with a runoff system, so if a candidate doesn't get more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters go to a second round, which will be in May. His opponent in the runoff is George P. Bush, the state's land commissioner and son of Jeb Bush.

INSKEEP: So Ken Paxton now against the latest generation of the Bush family. What about congressional races, of which there are so many it could affect control of Congress this fall?

SCHNEIDER: Well, one of the big ones I was looking at was the Democratic race in South Texas between longtime, relatively conservative congressman Henry Cuellar and 28-year-old progressive Jessica Cisneros. Now, Cuellar actually beat Cisneros two years ago. But in January, there was an FBI raid on Cuellar's home and office that really affected the contest. There aren't many details about the investigation, and Cuellar says he's done nothing wrong, but it recast the race in its final weeks, and now Cuellar and Cisneros are heading to a runoff.

INSKEEP: OK, so multiple races, multiple runoffs that involve someone under investigation there in Texas. And all of this is happening under new voting rules, which we've covered intensively here on MORNING EDITION and on NPR, Texas has changed last year to its voting laws, one of many states, Republican-led states, across the country that did that. How did the new rules affect people's experiences?

SCHNEIDER: Well, one change that was kind of under the radar required Texans seeking to vote by mail to include their driver's license number or Social Security number in multiple places on the application and ballot. And many voters have been neglecting to fill out one or both of these or putting in the wrong number, and the result is thousands of ballots were flagged for rejection.

INSKEEP: May well be legitimate voters, but they were caught for a paperwork issue. Any other effects of the law?

SCHNEIDER: Well, one of the main issues that we've been seeing at the polls, actually, is more technical than legal. There have been some long delays here in Harris County, apparently because of problems with a significant number of paper ballots going through the county's new voting machines. Harris County is the biggest in the state, so it's a big block of votes waiting for some candidates.

INSKEEP: Oh, so we still don't know the vote totals for some of the races?

SCHNEIDER: No.

INSKEEP: OK. Andrew, thanks for the update. Really appreciate it.

SCHNEIDER: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's Houston Public Media's Andrew Schneider. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.