Rejected Ballots Abound in First Texas Primary under New Voting Laws

Voting ballots | Image by Castleski

The Texas primaries for midterm elections were on March 1 — with most races called by March 2 — but it is still unclear how many ballots will actually count towards the election due to the state’s recently-implemented voting law.

The new law, Senate Bill 1, limits the hours of operation and voting methods allowed at polling places, prevents public officials from sending out unsolicited mail-in ballots, and ups penalties for violations.

Signed last fall by Governor Greg Abbott, the stricter legislation implements restrictions on voting by mail in particular. Namely, it requires that mail-in voters provide their drivers license or partial Social Security number, both on their absentee ballot application form and on the envelope they use to mail in their ballots. These numbers must not only match each other, but match what is on the voter’s registration record.

The slogan used by Republicans when the law was introduced was “easier to vote and harder to cheat.”

Before signing the bill, Governor Greg Abbott stated, “One thing that all Texans can agree [on is] we must have trust and confidence in our elections. The bill that I’m about to sign helps to achieve that goal. The law does, however, make it harder for fraudulent votes to be cast.”

Mimi Marziani, the president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, believes the law places obstacles in the way of voting. She added the same challenges are likely to be seen in the rest of the country during upcoming elections.

“Texans are the ones feeling the impact now, but unfortunately, this is just a preview of what could happen in other states,” Marziani told NBC 5 News.

The Texas Civil Rights Project has leveled a lawsuit against the State of Texas over the new law.

Per NBC, the rejected mail-in ballot rate in Houston on March 1 was 30%, which equates to about 11,000 ballots. Leah Shah, a spokeswoman for the Harris County elections office, said both Republican and Democratic mail-in ballots were flagged for not following new identification requirements.

Texas Secretary of State John Scott and other Republican officials have claimed the high rate of ballot rejection likely stemmed from voters’ lack of familiarity with the new requirements. Scott believes rejected ballots will not be a significant issue as time goes on.

Rick Barnes, a Republican chairman for Tarrant County, said the rejected ballots show the law is serving its intended purpose.

“We looked at it as the fact that the law is definitely working,” Barnes told NBC. “It’s the first round of it, so it may take a little education moving forward. But again, I think that those percentages came down and we’re comfortable with the reality of it all.”

According to Barnes, one issue faced during primaries was a shortage of workers at polling places that caused some locations to open late. However, he said he expects there to be a poll watcher for “every single hour, every single poll,” during the November elections.

Per CNN, in contrast to poll workers — who are trained to verify people’s right to vote, answer questions, and provide assistance — poll watchers are observers placed in polling locations whose only role is to ensure votes are counted correctly and to report suspected irregularities to local officials.

By extension, some states allow poll watchers to contest an individual’s identity or right to vote if they suspect deceit.

According to The Texas Tribune, Senate Bill 1 increases Texas poll watchers’ autonomy in the polling place, but Republican lawmakers conceded with Democratic officials in the House to require that the watchers receive training.

The elections administrator in Collin County, Bruce Sherbet, said officials are determining how much more education the public will need to lower the rate of rejected ballots in the future.

On March 2, Collin County reported that over 800 of 5,300 mail-in ballots were rejected. Most were due to identification and signature issues, NBC reported.

Sherbet said, “It went as well as we could expect.”

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  1. jack

    Interesting comment on Poll Watchers. In Philadelphia Poll Watchers were not allowed to do as described above.

  2. Concerned Citizen

    There should be an easier way to cure rejected applications such as e-mail notification to a voter with a URL link.

    Lack of follow up communication with voters shows a faulty law.


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