Nearly 25,000 mail-in ballots were rejected in the Texas primary, state officials say

Niki Griswold
Austin American-Statesman

Texas election officials rejected just under 25,000 mail-in ballots cast in the March 1 primary election, the first since the state's new election law overhaul took effect, according to new data released by the Texas secretary of state’s office Wednesday.

The final numbers sent in by all 254 Texas counties show that of the 198,947 Texans who sent in their ballots by mail, 24,636 saw their ballots tossed out, for a rejection rate of 12.4%. 

Slight differences appear when broken down by party: 12.9% of the 110,967 mail ballots cast in the Democratic primary were rejected, while 11.8% of the 87,980 mail ballots cast in the Republican primary were rejected. More than 3 million Texans in total voted in the primary elections.

The data provide the first official picture of the scope of ballot rejections in the March primary, after a previous tally by The Associated Press found that nearly 23,000 mail-in votes were thrown out.

A spokesperson for the Texas secretary of state’s office told the American-Statesman the agency does not have mail-in ballot rejection data from previous elections, and 2022 is the first year counties have been required to report those numbers to the state. However, The Texas Tribune has reported that the statewide mail-in ballot rejection rate in the March primary far exceeds the rates from previous elections; based on an analysis by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the statewide rejection rate was less than 2% in the 2018 midterms and less than 1% in the 2020 presidential election.

Copies of the new, left, and old, right, vote-by-mail applications are displayed on a window during a press conference at the Travis County Clerk’s office on Jan. 18, 2022. Confusion regarding the switch to a new form and the additional identification requirements is causing a larger application rejection rate, explained Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir.

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More than 1,800 mail-in ballots were rejected in Austin-area counties, including Travis, Williamson, Hays, Caldwell, and Bastrop counties, or 8.2% of the mail-in ballots cast. In the 2018 primary, the rejection rate for mail-in ballots in Travis County was about 2%.

County election officials reported that the vast majority of mail-in ballot rejections this year were due to failures to meet new, tighter ID requirements in the Republican-backed elections law, a spokesperson for the Texas secretary of state’s office previously told the Statesman.

Last year, the GOP-controlled Legislature passed Senate Bill 1, making sweeping changes to the state’s voting rules, including banning drive-thru and overnight voting, empowering partisan poll watchers and requiring additional documentation for voting assistants who help Texans with language or physical needs cast their ballots.

The law also requires Texans who vote by mail to include their driver's license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number under the flap of the envelope containing their ballot. That number has to match whichever number is on that voter’s registration record. 

Voters are not required to provide both a driver’s license and Social Security number when they register to vote, so the state does not have both identification numbers on file for every voter in the state. If an individual registers to vote using one form of ID and then applies for a mail-in ballot using the other number, their application would be rejected.

Republicans touted the law as essential to ensuring the integrity of elections, despite there being relatively few cases of voter fraud. Voting rights groups had decried the legislation as tantamount to voter suppression, warning that the law would make it more difficult to cast a ballot, especially for disabled or elderly voters who are among the groups of Texans who meet the state’s strict eligibility requirements to vote by mail.