Texas local election officials have rejected thousands of absentee ballots based on requirements set by the state’s new electoral law, an alarming leap that could put some Texans at risk of not voting in Tuesday’s primaries.
The state’s Republican and Democratic primaries will be the first election since the Republican-led Texas legislature revised the state’s electoral laws. According to a review of election data by DailyExpertNews, election officials in the most populous counties have rejected roughly 30 percent of the ballots they received — more than 15,000 ballots.
The ballots were rejected largely because voters either didn’t include their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number, or the numbers they wrote down didn’t match what the officials had on their file. The new identification requirements were introduced by the voting law passed last year, known as Senate Act 1.
The rejection rate represents a significant increase from previous elections, including in 2020, when the statewide rejection rate was less than 1 percent for the general election, according to data from the Federal Election Assistance Commission. In 2020, officials rejected 8,304 Texas ballots of nearly one million votes statewide. This year, that number has already been surpassed statewide in two counties: Harris County and Dallas County rejected more than 8,600 ballots on Wednesday.
The Times counted ballot rejections in 10 of the 13 counties with more than 400,000 inhabitants. Bexar County, home of San Antonio, hadn’t begun reviewing the ballots on Wednesday, and Tarrant County and Denton County, near Dallas, were delayed by an ice storm.
The total number of rejected ballots can still change. Voters have until Election Day to submit their ballots and up to six days to rectify defects in the ballots, depending on the circumstances of the rejections. In Williamson County, outside of Austin, for example, officials initially rejected 514 absentee ballots, but 167 of those had been corrected and counted as of Tuesday.
The surge in rejections in Texas is the first sign that the wave of new election laws passed in the country last year after the 2020 election is taking effect. In the battlefield states of Florida and Georgia, Republican lawmakers passed sweeping new voting laws with absentee voting identification requirements similar to those in Texas law. Florida and Georgia will hold their primaries later this year.
A Guide to the Texas Primary
The 2022 midterm elections will begin with the state primaries on March 1.
Voters across Texas have flooded voter protection hotlines, asking for advice or expressing their dismay that their ballots had been rejected and returned after years of voting without a hitch.
At the Dallas County Democratic Party headquarters, voters have reported various issues regarding their ballots. The party is struggling to help voters as Tuesday’s election day deadline approaches, including using text messages to send information about new requirements to more than 30,000 voters in the province.
“The calls have been pretty much constant since the last week of January, with confusion over the application process and then frustration over the rejections,” said Kristy Noble, the chairman of the Dallas County Democratic Party.
However, absentee ballot complications have a more limited impact in Texas than many other states. Texas only allows voters who are over 65 or have a verified excuse to vote by mail. While more than a million Texans voted by mail in the 2020 general election, that number is expected to fall this year as voter turnout falls regularly during midterm elections.
But with postal voting limited to elderly and disabled voters, concerns have grown that initially rejected ballots will deprive voters of their right to vote. Guillermina Nevárez lives at home in the Maverick County border area with her husband, Alfonso Nevárez Sr., and her 98-year-old mother, who is disabled and recovering from recent surgery.
In all three of their ballots, they missed the field to include their identification details, assuming that since their ballot application was accepted, they were free to cast their vote.
“We didn’t look at the fine print,” said Ms. Nevárez, who is also the mother of a former Democratic state representative. “And there’s so much of it, the fine print.”
She corrected the three ballots and sent them back by post. She hopes the information is correct – due to her mother’s condition, they cannot visit in person to resolve any issues.
“It’s very disturbing,” said Ms. Nevárez.
Texas law also bans voting methods introduced in the 2020 election due to the pandemic, including drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, and it raises new barriers for those seeking to help voters in need of assistance, such as with translations. .
Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed the bill in September. The move came after record turnout in the state: 11.3 million people voted in the 2020 election, including more than nine million who cast their ballot early.
Mr Abbott’s office has not responded to multiple requests for comment. Previously, the governor’s office has defended the law and attributed the high rejection rates of absentee ballot applications to local election officials.
The Texas Secretary of State’s office said it has tried to notify voters of the new changes to prevent anyone from returning or rejecting a ballot.
“We’ve been working around the clock for the past month to get the word out through multiple channels,” Sam Taylor, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State, said in an email.
The state had already seen abnormally high rejection rates for absentee ballot applications earlier this month as voters struggled with the new identification requirements. Now, some voters who had to adjust their applications are getting nervous because their ballots won’t come in in time for Tuesday’s primary. Others decide to simply vote in person.
Nancy Bryant, 67, lives in Dallas and was an election judge in previous elections. She filled out her application and was approved, so she sent in her ballot. This week she learned that her ballot had been rejected and that provincial officials would send it to her for corrections.
But with the primary fast approaching, Ms. Bryant hadn’t received her ballot by Friday, and she’s not sure she’ll receive it in time to take it to a polling station on Election Day. Without her ballot, she could be forced to cast a provisional ballot. Either way, her desire to vote in the absence has clashed with the reality of the new Texas law and the chance to vote in person.
“If I don’t get it back in time, I’ll have to vote for now, which hurts me deeply,” Ms Bryant said. “I am a committed voter.”