Voters protest in Austin

Demonstrators protest outside the Texas State Capitol during a voting rights rally on July 8, 2021 in Austin. (Photo: Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images)

Texas Mail-In Ballot Rejection Rate Skyrockets Under GOP Voter Suppression Law

For Texans who cast ballots by mail in the state's recent primary, the initial rejection rate was 17% across 120 counties, compared with less than 1% statewide during the 2020 general election.

It used to be rare for mail-in ballots to be thrown out in Texas, but thanks to the GOP's new voter suppression law, more than 27,000 of them were flagged for rejection during the state's recent primary election, according to a new analysis published Wednesday by The Associated Press.

For Texans who cast ballots by mail, the initial rejection rate was 17% across 120 counties, based on preliminary figures reported by election officials after votes were counted in the state's March 1 primary. Although Texas has 254 counties, the vast majority of the nearly three million people who participated in the nation's first primary of 2022 reside in the 120 counties that provided early data.

AP reported:

For now, the numbers do not represent how many Texas ballots were effectively thrown out. Voters had until Monday to "fix" rejected mail ballots, which in most cases meant providing identification that is now required under a sweeping law signed last fall by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

New requirements include listing an identification number--either a driver's license or a Social Security number--on the ballot's carrier envelope. That number must match the county's records. If a ballot is rejected, voters could add an ID number via an online ballot tracking system, go to the county's election offices and fix the problem in person, or vote with a provisional ballot on election day.

County election officers say they worked feverishly to contact those voters in time, in many cases successfully, and a full and final tally of rejected ballots in Texas is expected to come into focus in the coming days.

Even if the final number of discounted votes turns out to be lower, Texas is on pace to significantly exceed previous mail-in ballot rejection rates. Roughly 8,300 mail-in ballots out of nearly one million--less than 1% of the statewide total--were rejected in Texas during the 2020 general election, according to the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission.

After Abbott signed Senate Bill 1 into law in September, rights groups took legal action, arguing that the sweeping changes--including new ID requirements for mail-in ballots, a ban on drive-thru voting, and limits on counties' ability to expand voting options--would disproportionately impact the poor, the elderly, people with disabilities, and people of color in Texas, which already had some of the nation's most restrictive voting rules.

President Joe Biden's Justice Department also filed a lawsuit alleging that the new restrictions violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act.

Although parts of S.B. 1 have been temporarily blocked in the courts, much of the Texas GOP's anti-democracy law is now in effect.

Marc Elias, the founder of Democracy Docket, called the law's results--long predicted but now coming into clear view--"shameful."

While 75-year-old Pamiel Gaskin of Houston said that she was finally able to vote successfully after "three tries and 28 days," AP reported that hundreds of mail-in ballots "have been disqualified for good."

"Along the Texas border, El Paso County reported that 725 mail ballots were officially rejected and not counted after a final canvass Monday--about 16% of all such ballots cast," noted the newspaper. "In the booming suburbs of Austin, Williamson County had a final number of 521 rejected ballots, nearly evenly split evenly between Republican and Democratic primary voters."

"Some rejected mail voters could have casted a ballot in person later," AP added. "Antonio Riveria, El Paso County's assistant elections administrator, said Wednesday that number is unknown in his office. But they typically reject significantly fewer mail ballots."

"The high rates of mail-in ballot rejections are hurting all voters across the state, especially the elderly and Texans with disabilities."

"It's a lot less. Maybe 10," said Riveria.

While thousands of mail-in ballots in Houston-area Harris County and other jurisdictions with significant percentages of Democratic voters have been flagged, mail-in ballot rejection rates are also substantial in heavily Republican counties carried by former President Donald Trump.

Texas House Democrats said Thursday on social media that "the high rates of mail-in ballot rejections are hurting all voters across the state, especially the elderly and Texans with disabilities."

"Many lost out on their opportunity to vote altogether under the new GOP-led restrictions," said the lawmakers. "Democrats warned Republicans that S.B. 1 would disenfranchise voters, but they didn't care. We will continue to push back against these anti-voter policies, and make sure every election is free and fair."

Democratic lawmakers in Texas fought valiantly to prevent their Republican counterparts and Abbott from enacting draconian voter restrictions in the first place, postponing votes on S.B. 1 multiple times by leaving the state.

While in Washington, D.C., they begged congressional Democrats to repeal the filibuster and pass federal voting rights protections, but corporate-backed Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) refused--choosing instead to preserve the 60-vote rule that gives the Senate's GOP minority veto power over most legislation.

Texas' first-in-the-nation primary gave the first glimpse and fullest picture to date of how state-level Republican lawmakers' far-reaching assault on the franchise--which includes map-rigging, new voter identification laws, and reductions in early voting and polling places and hours--is making it harder for Americans to vote.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, GOP-controlled Legislatures in at least 19 states passed 34 laws curbing voting access in 2021--a "tidal wave" of voter suppression that shows no sign of slowing down as the nation heads into the 2022 midterms and, before too long, campaigns for the 2024 general election.

As of January 14, "legislators in at least 27 states have introduced, pre-filed, or carried over 250 bills with restrictive provisions," according to the Brennan Center's latest tally.

The Republican Party's attack on democracy has been fueled by an avalanche of lies about voter fraud and a stolen election repeated ad nauseam by Trump and other right-wing figures.

Voting rights advocates have argued that the best way to counter GOP voter suppression efforts is by passing two pieces of federal legislation--the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Those bills have stalled in the Senate, however, due to the opposition of every Republican, Manchin, and Sinema.

In response to the AP's new report, journalist Jordan Zakarin asked, "How can anyone say we're defending democracy abroad if we're letting it be dismantled at home?"

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