AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Secretary of State issued a report Wednesday indicating that nearly 25,000 mail-in ballots were rejected during the March 1 primary, sharply higher than rejections recorded in prior elections.
The major increase in the number of rejected ballots stems almost entirely from new mail-in ballot identification rules from a controversial election law enacted earlier this year. Before the law, election officials typically saw rejection rates hovering near 1%.
The March 1 primary was the first statewide election that required mail-in voters to submit either their driver’s license number or last four digits of their social security number with the ballot. The election was plagued with problems and confusion across Texas that resulted in rejected applications.
In total, 24,636 ballots were rejected across Texas. Of those, 14,281 were Democratic ballots while 10,355 were ballots for the Republican primary. About 3 million ballots were cast in the primaries.
In North Texas, 1,981 mail-in ballots were rejected across Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant Counties. The rejection rate was 12.3%.
Even country music legend Willie Nelson faced issues with submitting his mail-in ballot, though he ultimately was able to correct his mail ballot, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
The report did not indicate how many people who received notification of a rejected ballot went on to cast votes in person. But it disproportionately affected senior citizens. Texas law allows for anyone over the age of 65 to vote by mail.
AARP Texas Director Tina Tran said the high number of rejected ballots was “deeply troubling and a sad indication that too many voters, including many older voters, are being disenfranchised because of changes made to the state’s vote-by-mail program.”
“Ballot rejections of this proportion could significantly swing the outcomes of state and local elections,” Tran said in a media release. “These rejections of ballots also could be a mere tip of the iceberg of problems faced at the polls, as there have also been reports of widespread rejections of ballot applications.”
The new rules arise from Senate Bill 1, a controversial election law framed by Republicans as an election security measure that Democrats criticized as voter suppression. Last summer, the law drew national attention after Democrats in the House fled the state to prevent its passage.
Their efforts eventually failed as Democrats slowly returned to the Capitol and restored the quorum necessary to conduct House business.
The law came about amid unfounded claims by former president Donald Trump of voter fraud following his loss to President Joe Biden in 2020′s election. Mail-in votes in particular continue to draw the former president’s ire.
Texas Republican lawmakers pursued changes to state voting laws despite having no proof of widespread voter fraud. Along with new rules for mail-in votes, the law also made it a crime for election workers to solicit mail-in votes, outlawed 24-hour voting and gave more power to poll watchers.
The law has been challenged in federal courts by various groups, including a lawsuit from the Department of Justice seeking to overturn the voter-ID requirements and alleging the law discriminates against people with disabilities. The non-solicitation portion of the law was overturned in February by a San Antonio federal court.
It appears the rhetoric surrounding mail-in voting had an effect. Republicans in recent years submitted mail-in ballots at greater rates than Democrats, but there was a major turnaround in the primaries.
Despite outvoting Democrats 2-to-1, Republicans mailed fewer ballots than Democrats. About 4.5% of Republican primary ballots came through the mail while 10.3% of Democratic ballots were mailed.
Many of the new law’s provisions were aimed at Harris County’s election department, which has remained a target of Republican leaders after the office failed to count 10,000 votes during the primary.