State Watch

Harris County officials ask DOJ to look into rejected mail-in ballots

Top officials in Texas’s most populated county have asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to step in amid growing concerns over the unprecedented rejection rate of mail ballots cast so far in the state’s primary election.

Officials from Harris County, home to Houston, asked federal officials to use any available means to address the “alarmingly high” number of ballots being rejected as a result of voter ID requirements enacted under a new Texas voting law. 

“Our message today is simple: please exhaust every legal option available to ensure that each eligible voter in Harris County and the State of Texas has their vote counted,” reads the Thursday letter to DOJ. “No action is too small to preserve our democracy.” 

The letter was signed by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D), County Attorney Christian Menefee (D) and Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Under Texas’s new election law, Senate Bill 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. The new ID fields are located under the return mail envelope’s flap, where officials say it may be easily overlooked by voters, triggering a rejection. 

Officials cited other common reasons why mail-in voters 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, and the “rushed” process has meant little time to get voters up to speed on the new changes.

Ballots are also flagged for rejection if the number on the envelope does not match the number in a voter’s registration file. 

As of Tuesday, 3,491 of the 9,809 mail ballots cast in Harris County were rejected under S.B. 1’s voter ID requirement, a rate of 36%. By comparison, the final rejection rate of mail ballots in the March 2018 primary election was 0.2%, or 135 total ballots.

Although the March 1 primary election is still weeks away, allowing time to fix ballot errors, county officials have expressed concern that a significant number of would-be mail-in voters might simply choose to sit out the election rather than take the time to correct and resend their ballot.

The Texas law 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 erect unnecessary hurdles to voting. 

“Legitimate measures to protect the security of the electoral process are essential,” the Harris County officials told DOJ. “But the days of literacy tests, poll taxes, and last-minute impediments to the ballot box should be put behind us for good.”

Tags mail voting Texas Vote by Mail

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