By Kelly Mena, CNN
Thousands of mail-in ballots were rejected in Texas’ most populous county for the March primary because they did not meet requirements set by the state’s new voting law passed last year by the Republican-led state legislature, according to Houston-area election officials.
Harris County election officials on Friday announced that of the 36,878 mail ballots received for the March 1 primary, a total of 6,888, or 19%, were rejected “as a direct result of Senate Bill 1.”
Under the law, voters had to include a Texas identification number or a partial Social Security number when returning their mail-in ballots. However, the identification number used must match one of the numbers on the voter’s registration record. Officials noted that the mail ballots were flagged for rejection “specifically due to ID issues.”
The rejection rate is a significant jump from previous years. In 2018, Harris County rejected only 135 mail-in ballots of a total of 48,473 received, officials said in a news release.
For comparison, fewer than 1% of mail-in ballots — or about 8,300 ballots statewide — were rejected in Texas in the 2020 election, according to the US Election Assistance Commission.
The Harris County election office was also inundated with calls from voters due to the confusion and frustration surrounding the new ID requirements. Officials said that since January, the call center received 8,000 calls from people asking for help navigating the voting process — which was higher than the monthly call volume in the lead up to the November 2020 and November 2021 elections.
Officials said the elections office doubled its staff in order to help voters navigate the new rules, including sending voters a letter on how to fix their ballots so they would be counted.
“Nearly 20% of votes cast by mail were not counted as a result of SB1. That’s 6,888 registered voters who were silenced. These restrictive voting laws continue to undermine our efforts to expand voter access and will have repercussions for many elections to come,” said Isabel Longoria, Harris County elections administrator.
Earlier this week, Longoria, who has overseen elections in the county since 2020, announced her resignation amid a mail-in ballot counting discrepancy in Election Night results. She said her resignation would be effective July 1.
Meanwhile, in Travis County, home to the state capital of Austin, the rejection rate was 8%, or 948 mail-in ballots were rejected of a total 10,656, according to Victoria Hinojosa, a spokeswoman in the election office. Hinojosa previously told CNN that the county’s rejection rate in 2018 was about 2%.
Because of the rejection rates, the office of Secretary of State John Scott said it would focus on voter education outreach efforts on the new mail-in voting requirements, spokesman Sam Taylor said.
“While in years past we have focused our voter education efforts on in-person ID requirements, this year we are also devoting a significant portion of our voter education campaign to enhancing awareness of the new mail-in ballot ID requirements,” Taylor said. “We are confident we have the data and research we need to apply any lessons learned during the primary to an even more robust voter education campaign heading into the November General Election.”
Following reports of the high rejection rates, voting rights advocates called again for federal voting rights legislation.
“The federal Voting Rights Act must be restored to ensure that every voter in Texas … has equal access to the ballot box and is protected from unfair laws and practices that make it harder for people to vote,” said Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, in a statement to CNN.
“It is a tragedy for our democracy when state leaders choose to support a partisan agenda instead of voters when writing state election law resulting in a massive rejection of vote-by-mail ballots,” Chimene added.
This story has been updated with additional details Friday.
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