New Texas Law Has Already Resulted in More Black Voters’ Ballots Being Tossed

The rate at which rejected mail ballots soared in the March primary elections in Texas — and those rejections disproportionately affected Democrats, especially Black voters in the state’s biggest county.

An analysis by the Associated Press. According to the, the rejection rate for past elections was approximately 1% to 2%. Texas Tribune.

The rejection rate was higher for liberal areas of the state. More than 15% of mail votes were rejected in Democratic-leaning county, while 9.1% were rejected in Republican-leaning county. According to the Tarrant County election officials rejected 813 ballots for the Democratic primary under new voter ID rules. Only three ballots were rejected for the Republican primary. Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

One of the highest rates of rejections was in Harris County, which includes Houston and is the state’s largest population center (and the third most populous county in the nation). Nearly 7,000 ballots were thrown out by election officials in Harris County, which accounts for 19% of all returned mail votes. They only discarded 0.3% returned mail ballots in 2018 primaries.

An analysis by The New York Times. Voters who reside in Harris County with large Black populations were 44% less likely to have their mail ballots tossed as opposed to voters who live in areas with large white populations.

Texas already prohibits mail voting for voters over 65 and those who have a valid excuse to vote absentee. The alarming rise in mail ballot rejections could signal a greater number of ballots being rejected in the general election. This is expected to see a higher turnout. This could be repeated in the 18 other states that have imposed harsh new voting restrictions after former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss.

Most of the ballots rejected were flagged by a provision in the new voting law that requires voters to provide their driver’s license number or a partial Social Security number. Some voters left the fields blank or entered an identification number other than the one that election officials had in their files. While the state gives voters a limited time to correct errors on their ballots after the deadline, the vast majority were rejected.

It is not clear what caused the disparities between Texas counties’ rejection rates. Harris County, with 2.5 million registered voters rejected 19% of mail ballots. Dallas County, with 1.4 million voters, rejected only 9.5%.

Geographical and demographic differences could play a part in these counties’ success. Harris County spans more than 1,700 square miles, nearly twice as much as Dallas County, which made it challenging to “reach every voter with very limited resources,” Harris County Elections spokeswoman Nadia Hakim said in an email to Salon.

Hakim also said that Harris County officials “did not receive any guidance or materials from the Texas Secretary of State, nor did we receive a budget to run campaigns or advertisements to educate voters on the changes.” She added that county election officials spent three months educating voters before the election and allocating staff to focus on outreach to voters whose ballots were marked for rejection.

Hakim said that her office “is deeply troubled by the number of mail ballot rejections” during the March primary, especially considering the much lower number of rejections in 2018. “The new voting laws brought on by Senate Bill 1 are leading to the disenfranchisement of Harris County’s most vulnerable populations, including communities of color, the elderly, and voters with disabilities.”

Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Texas secretary of state’s office, told Salon that state officials have heard from county officials that the vast majority of rejected mail ballots “were due to voters who did not provide any ID information on their carrier envelope,” even though they had successfully applied for a mail-in ballot using the same ID information.

Taylor said the office is now devoting “a significant portion of our voter education campaign to enhancing awareness of the new mail-in ballot ID requirements.” He continued, “We are confident we will have all the information we need to apply any lessons learned during the primary to an even more robust voter education campaign” directed at the general election in November.

Voting rights groups doubt that Texas officials will be able to do enough. They believe the sharp increase in ballot rejections is a sign of the need for federal intervention.

“Texas was already the hardest state to vote in before Republicans passed these laws that made it even harder,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, in a statement to Salon. “What we’re seeing today is a small preview of what we can expect to see at a far wider scale in November unless the federal government finally takes real action to intervene.”

Gutierrez said the Texas secretary of state’s office was repeatedly told about the potential for these problems when the voting-restriction bill was going through committee. He suggested that state officials had “ample opportunity” to address these issues but “instead chose to focus on playing politics [as] implementation was left to local officials who received little to no guidance or communication from our state’s chief election officer.” He predicted “far bigger problems in November when we have exponentially more people showing up to the polls.”

The Justice Department was inaugurated last November sued TexasThe complaint was filed over the new voting law. It alleges that the bill’s restrictive measures violate both the Voting Rights Act as well as the Civil Rights Act. The complaint specifically notes that the provision requiring the rejection of mail ballots due to “certain paperwork errors or omissions that are not material to establishing a voter’s eligibility to cast a ballot” violates the Civil Rights Act.

The bill’s restrictions on “which absentee ballots cast by eligible voters can be accepted by election officials are unlawful and indefensible,” DOJ Civil Rights Division chief Kristen Clarke said last year.

More than a dozen Texas Democrats sent a letter to Clarke earlier this month asking the federal government to expedite its lawsuit against the state due to an “unprecedented” increase in rejected mail ballots.

“Unfortunately, this wrongdoing is a direct — and intended — result of Texas Senate Bill 1 … with the sole purpose of making it more difficult for Texans to vote and, thereby, undermining the democratic process,” the letter said, calling on the Justice Department to “deploy the necessary resources to combat this injustice.”

Rep. Mark Veasey, the lead author of the letter, said in a statement that the “destructive” Republican voting law “disproportionately undermines the voice — and vote — of minority and low-income communities.”

It’s by no means clear that the federal lawsuit will succeed, especially since it is likely at some point to come before the current Supreme Court, whose conservative supermajority has already let other legally dubious election laws stand. Attorney General Merrick Grland warned last year that the DOJ’s power to protect voting rights was limited after the Supreme Court gutted part of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination to pre-clear any electoral changes with the department.

Democrats have tried repeatedly to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. This would restore pre-clearance requirements (among other reforms) but it has been repeatedly filibustered repeatedly by Republicans. Two “moderate” Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have rejected their own party’s efforts to repeal the filibuster, effectively dooming the legislation (which both claim to support).

Voting rights groups feel that the Senate must renew its efforts to pass voting rights legislation before the upcoming elections. The Texas law “caused heart-breaking confusion” in the March primaries that “hit older voters and voters with disabilities particularly hard,” Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, said in a statement to Salon.

“In Harris County, older Black voters were especially impacted by this anti-voter legislation,” Chimene said. “This law is a throwback to the poll taxes of the Jim Crow era. … The federal Voting Rights Act must be restored to ensure that every voter in Texas — regardless of where they live, what they look like, how old they are, if they have disabilities, or what language they speak — has equal access to the ballot box.”