A lot of the people who managed to fill out the mail ballot application form correctly have failed to fill in the newly-required voter ID information on the ballot and have to get that fixed or have their ballot tossed.
Stricter voting rules enacted by Republican lawmakers last year continue to foil Texans trying to vote by mail in the upcoming primary, with hundreds of completed ballots being initially rejected for not meeting the state’s new identification requirements.
The bulk of mail-in ballots have yet to arrive at elections offices, but local officials are already reporting that a significant number are coming in without the newly required ID information. As of Wednesday, election officials in Harris County alone had flagged 1,360 mail-in ballots to be sent back to voters — 40% of the mail-in ballots returned up to that point — because they lacked an ID number.
Under the state’s new rules, officials cannot accept ballots without the ID information on the return envelopes containing the ballot and must mail them back if there’s enough time for the voter to send back a corrected envelope.
“We’ll see how many we get back,” said Isabel Longoria, the Harris County elections administrator. “That’s our big question mark right now: Are voters going to go through the extra step to correct it?”
The new ID requirements are the earliest rule changes to kick in under the law that Republican lawmakers enacted last year to further tighten voting procedures in the state. The law, known as SB 1, ratchets up the state’s already strict rules for voting by mail by requiring absentee voters to include a state identification number like a driver’s license number, or — if they don’t have a driver’s license — a partial Social Security number, both when requesting a mail-in ballot and when returning a completed ballot.
Those numbers must match information in a voter’s record for ballot requests to be accepted and votes to be counted.
The new ID rules have already prompted hundreds of rejected ballot requests, often because voters did not provide any ID numbers at all. But even counties that saw few request rejections are now grappling with high rates of faulty ballots.
The voting law allows for a correction process, but local election officials and voters are facing a time crunch.
Defective ballots must be sent back to voters if they arrive early enough to be sent back and corrected. If officials determine there’s not enough time, they must notify the voter by phone or email. Voters must then visit the elections office in person to correct the issue, or use the state’s new online ballot tracker to verify the missing information.
Those determinations are made by panels of election workers responsible for qualifying mail-in ballots. The Texas secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections, has advised counties to convene those panels as early as possible to give voters the maximum amount of time to make a correction.
“Obviously the main concern, I think, with most election officials is that people that receive ballots by mail may not have the ability to come to the clerk’s office,” said Heather Hawthorne, the county clerk of Chambers County.
Remember how Texas’ famously strict voter ID law originally exempted mail ballots because at the time of the voter ID law’s passage mail ballots favored Republicans? That’s no longer the case, or at least not as much the case, and so here we are. Since this is a primary election and people have to pick which ballot they want, I want very much to know how many of each parties’ ballots were defective, how many of those were later corrected and by which means, and why they were defective – in other words, how many were missing the voter ID information, how many just had the wrong number in there, and how many were rejected for some other reason. I know there’s no mechanism to force an election administrator to track and release that data, but I think we need and deserve to know it. I’m going to see if I can find it out for myself.
This story also provides some data on the question of how many mail ballots are being sent out. And as we can see, so far it’s way behind the last two primaries.
Officials in larger counties are staffing up ahead of the rush — and a possible spike in defective ballots under the new rules.
Harris County, home to Houston, has doubled the number of workers managing its voter call center, and it’s scrambling to add more workers to its mail ballot team. It has increased the size of the panel of election workers who are qualifying mail-in ballots by 30%, and Longoria expects they’ll have to work double the number of days when the crush of ballots comes in.
As of Tuesday, Harris County had received only about 10% of the more than 27,000 mail-in ballots it had sent out to voters who requested them. (That number is expected to grow further because voters can request mail-in ballots up until Feb. 18.)
As noted before, there were almost 70K mail ballots sent to Harris County voters in the 2020 primary, and almost 64K mail ballots sent in 2018. It’s true that there’s still a week to request mail ballots, and I have no data on what the historic demand curve for them looks like. It may well be that there’s still a deluge to come, but I doubt it. About 97% of all the mail ballots in 2020 had been sent by the first day of early voting – which, I remind you, is Monday – and about 93% of such ballots were sent by Day One of EV in 2018. We’re at less than half of the total for 2022, and I don’t think it’s because there’s less interest in this election. I’d also like to know detailed data about rejected applications – how many from each party, how many got successfully resubmitted, and what were the reasons. If it turns out that this has hurt the Republicans more, I’ll have a grim laugh, but it still sucks. And everyone knew this was going to happen.