By ASHLEY LOPEZ
County election officials in the Austin area are reporting a higher than usual rejection rate for mail-in ballots during the March 1 primary election.
This was the first election since Texas’ new voting law went into effect. The law, known as Senate Bill 1, created new ID rules for ballots by mail. Advocates and county election officials in Texas warned those new ID requirements could lead to more rejected ballots.
In Travis County, about 11,200 voters returned ballots by mail, but about 8% of those were rejected.
According to Victoria Hinojosa, a spokesperson for the Travis County Clerk’s Office, there was initially a 16% rejection rate, but half of those voters were able to correct the issue with their ballots.
“A majority of finally rejected ballots had ID issues,” Hinojosa said in an email.
Compared to past elections, this is a significantly higher rejection rate. In the 2018 primary, Hinojosa said, about 2% of mail-in ballots were rejected.
Williamson County reported an 11.5% rejection rate of mail-in ballots, according to official totals.
Chris Davis, Williamson County’s elections administrator, said in an email that this election’s rejection rate is “absolutely higher than anything we’ve ever encountered before.”
Davis was among many county election officials who warned changes to ID requirements for mail-in voting would increase rejections, even among eligible voters.
SB 1 requires that voters provide either a partial social security number or driver’s license number on their application to vote by mail, as well as on the carrier envelope when they return their actual ballot to their county election official.
Under the law, whatever ID they provide has to match what’s in their voter registration record. State election officials have said the overwhelming majority of Texas voters should have both those IDs on their record.
But election officials say these changes have tripped up a lot of voters. Early on, election officials were reporting that up to 40% of mail ballots that were coming in did not meet the new ID requirements. Either those ballots could not be matched with their voter registration record, or voters completely missed that new part of the return ballot.
As ballots were returned to voters for correction and then sent back, the percentage of flagged ballots came down.
The rejection rates show a mixed picture of which party was most affected by changes to vote-by-mail ID rules.
In Williamson County – a historically Republican suburban county north of Austin that has been trending Democratic – Republican voters who mailed in ballots had a higher percentage of rejections. About 9.9% of Democratic mail ballots were rejected in the county, while about 13.8% of GOP mail ballots were rejected.
Technically, Democratic primary voters had more ballots rejected overall: 261. In the Republican primary, 260 mail ballots were rejected. However, overall, more people cast mail ballots in the Democratic primary, so the percentage was lower.
In Bastrop County, Democratic voters were more likely to have their mail ballots rejected. In that county, about 6% of GOP mail-in ballots were rejected. Among Democratic mail-in ballots, the rejection rate was 11%, according to unofficial totals.
In Hays County, election officials say they rejected 208 ballots during the primary, which is about 8.8% of the ballots that were returned.
This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Austin Monitor, an online, nonpartisan, 501(c)3 nonprofit publication that covers local government and politics in and around Austin.