Thousands of mail ballots rejected under new Texas voting law

Thousands of Texans who have voted by mail in the state’s upcoming primary election have had their ballots rejected as a result of voter ID requirements enacted under a new Texas voting law, raising alarms among election officials.

Although the March 1 primary election is still weeks away, allowing time to fix ballot errors, officials expressed concern that a significant number of would-be mail-in voters might simply choose to sit out the election instead.

“The concern is that there are too many hurdles for voters to go through,” said Leah Shah, director of communications for Harris County elections.  

Harris County, which encompasses Houston and surrounding areas and is the state’s most populous county, has seen an “unprecedented” rejection rate, according to Shah, who said similar issues have been reported in other counties.   

Of the 7,243 mail ballots that Harris County has received so far, just over 2,700 — or 38 percent — were flagged specifically because there was no ID. Likewise, the county’s rate of rejection for mail ballot applications, 14 percent, is more than double the 6 percent rate seen in the 2018 primary.

Texas’s controversial new law, Senate Bill 1, is part of a raft of GOP-crafted legislation passed in the wake of the 2020 presidential election. The bill’s backers contend the new restrictions are needed to ensure election integrity, but critics say the measure is meant to suppress Democratic votes in upcoming races. 

Under S.B. 1, mail-in voters are required to provide either a Texas driver's license number, a Texas ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number. That number, in turn, must match the number in a voter’s registration file.

Shah cited a variety of reasons why mail-in voters might fail to comply with the new ID requirement: Those accustomed to avoiding disclosure of personal information through the mail might find the new requirement confusing; the fine print may be easily overlooked; and the “rushed” process has meant little time to get voters up to speed on the new changes.

For now, Harris County elections officials are doing what they can to help rejected mail voters remedy their ballots — placing phone calls to explain the steps and returning ballots with requirements highlighted.

But according to Shah, part of the concern is that we “can't assume that people have the time to dedicate to making the corrections.”

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