Texas ballot rejections soar thanks to GOP-backed voting rules, AP says

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas rejected absentee ballots at an unusually high rate in the nation’s first primary in 2022, outright rejecting nearly 23,000 ballots under stricter voting rules that are part of campaign by Republicans to reshape the US election, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.

About 13% of mail-in ballots returned in the March 1 primary were discarded and not counted in 187 Texas counties. Although historical primary comparisons are lacking, the double-digit rejection rate would be far beyond what is typical in a general election, when experts say anything over 2% is usually cause for attention. .

“My first reaction is ‘yuck,'” said Charles Stewart III, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Election Data and Science Laboratory. “It tells me there is something seriously wrong with the way the mail-in ballot policy is being administered.”

Republicans promised new layers of voting rules would make it “easier to vote and harder to cheat.” But the final numbers recorded by AP lay bare the glaring gap between that goal and the hurdles, frustration and tens of thousands of uncounted votes resulting from tighter restrictions and rushed implementation.

In Texas, a former state president, Donald Trump, won easily, although by a smaller margin than in 2016, the difficulty of navigating the new rules was felt in counties large and small. , red and blue. But the rejection rate was higher in Democratic-leaning counties (15.1%) than Republican (9.1%).

The unusually high rejection rate to start the midterm election season in the United States should draw more attention to changes at the polls elsewhere in the country. The Texas election was the start of more restrictive voting rules that the GOP rushed to put on the books across the United States in time for the midterm elections, a push that was particularly aimed at the postal voting which has grown in popularity during the pandemic.

At least 17 more states in the coming months will vote under tougher election laws, in part because of Trump’s unsubstantiated and persistent allegations of rampant fraud in the 2020 election. far exceed the hundreds of even possible voter fraud cases the AP has previously identified in six battleground states that Trump has contested.

The AP counted 22,898 rejected ballots across Texas by contacting all 254 counties and obtaining final vote reconciliation reports. Some smaller counties did not provide data or respond to queries, but the 187 counties that provided full numbers to AP accounted for 85% of the 3 million people who voted in the primary.

Last week, AP reported that 27,000 ballots were flagged in Texas for initial rejection, meaning those voters still had time to “fix” their ballot for several days after the primary and make count. But final figures suggest most voters did not.

Most of the rejections occurred around Houston, a Democratic stronghold, where Harris County election officials reported nearly 7,000 mail-in ballots — about 19% — were rejected. In the last midterm elections in 2018, Texas’ largest county threw out just 135 mail-in ballots. Harris County election officials said they have received more than 8,000 calls since January from voters asking for help, which they attributed to “confusion and frustration” over the new requirements.

In the five counties Trump won that had the most mail-in primary voters, 2,006 mail-in ballots were discarded, a rate of 10% of the total. In Biden-winning counties with the most mail-in voters, which include most of Texas’ largest cities, a combined 14,020 votes were also cast, which amounted to 15.7%.

In rural East Texas, Annette Young voted by mail as usual, but received a startling letter a week after the primary informing her that the ballot never counted because it was not compliant with a new state law requiring mail-in voters to include personal identification numbers.

“I just threw it in the trash,” she said.

Most rejected ballots, according to county election officials and the Texas secretary of state, failed to meet the new identification requirements. The changes were part of the sweeping overhaul of elections in Texas that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law in October, saying at the time that “no one eligible to vote will be denied the opportunity to vote.”

Abbott and top Texas Republicans who have championed the changes have been largely silent about the high rejection rates. Abbott’s office did not respond to requests for comment, and messages from Republican Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan also went unanswered.

Republican Senator Paul Bettencourt, a supporter of the changes, said in an email that a problem could have been that the voting instructions printed in different colors of ink – red for the signature, black for the identification numbers – might have left voters with the wrong impression that they didn’t need to provide both.

Federal data on rejected mail-in ballots in general elections show few instances of double-digit rejection rates. Outliers include Indiana (14.5%) in 2006, Oregon (12.7%) in 2010 and New York (13.7%) in 2018, according to US Election Assistance Commission records.

Stewart of MIT said less is generally known about trends in primary elections due to lack of data. One hypothesis, he said, is that because primaries tend to attract more habitual voters, they are less likely to make mistakes that cause rejections. But Stewart said others believe officials may have more time to review and reject ballot papers in elections with low turnout.

New requirements for voting by mail in Texas include placing an identification number — either a driver’s license or a Social Security number — on the ballot media envelope. This number must match county records, and if a ballot is rejected, voters have the option of providing the missing information or simply voting in person instead.

It’s unclear how many Texas voters whose mail-in ballots were rejected could have still counted their vote by deciding to show up in person instead.

Sam Taylor, spokesman for the Texas secretary of state, said the office does not yet have its own definitive numbers on ballot rejections. He said an “important part” of their efforts this year will be raising awareness of the new mailing rules.

“We are confident that we will have all the information we need to apply the lessons learned in the primary to an even more robust voter education campaign ahead of the November general election,” he said.

Delores Tarver Smith, 87, took no chances with a mail-in ballot this year. She applied in Harris County for a mail-in ballot on Feb. 1, but when none arrived on Election Day, she went to vote in person.

Last Wednesday – more than a week after the primary – her absentee ballot finally showed up at her house.

“I just went to vote in person, because I had to make sure my vote counted,” she said.

Associated Press data reporter Aaron Kessler in Washington, reporter Nicholas Riccardi in Denver; Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa; Jim Salter in St. Louis, Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas; Margaret Stafford in Kansas City; Andy Tubasa Field in Topeka, Kansas; Tammy Webber in Fenton, Michigan; and Kathleen Foody and Jeff McMurray in Chicago contributed to this report.

Coronado and Field are members of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.




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