Politics

Harris County asks DOJ to intervene over Texas mail-in ballot rejections

The letter, directed to U.S. Attorney general Merrick Garland, points to “an alarmingly high number” of rejections after the passage of Senate Bill 1.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo speaks on the importance of being vigilant in the fight against human trafficking at the ‘No Trafficking Zone’ press conference at NRG stadium.

Harris County is asking the Department of Justice to intervene after thousands of mail-in ballots and applications were rejected in the wake of a strict new voting law passed in the Texas Legislature.

In a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, county leaders pointed to an “alarmingly high number” of rejections based on new rules enacted in Senate Bill 1, which went into effect Dec. 2 and created new voter ID rules that elections administrators across the state say have tripped up voters as they seek to use mail-in ballots.

The letter — signed by Harris County judge Lina Hidalgo, County Attorney Christian Menefee and Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria — asks the DOJ to step in and investigate.

“Our message today is simple: please exhaust every legal option available to ensure that each eligible voter in Harris County and the State of Texas has their vote counted,” the letter says. “No action is too small to preserve our democracy.”

Of 33,270 mail-in ballot applications received by Harris County, 4,598 — or 14% — were flagged for rejection due to the new voter ID requirements, and 13,736 — or 41% — were “flagged for rejection for any reason.”

Just 4,227 applications were flagged for rejection during the same period in March 2018, the last midterm election, the letter says — 6.6% of all applications received.

On top of that, 35.5% of mail-in ballots themselves were flagged as of Tuesday due to new ID requirements, the letter says — 3,491 of the 9,809 ballots received in Harris County.

The new law requires that the ID voters use on their mail-in ballot envelope or application is the same as what’s on their voter registration record. Election officials across the state say that’s led to confusion, as voters who may have registered years or decades ago may not remember which ID they used to register. Fields for the newly required ID information are also placed beneath a flap on the vote-by-mail envelope, which the letter calls “a game of gotcha.”

“SB 1 is therefore achieving exactly what its authors set out to do: erect more hurdles in front of the ballot box and systemically suppress the vote in Harris County,” the letter says.

U.S. Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Read the entire letter below:

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Paul DeBenedetto

Paul DeBenedetto

Senior Producer

Paul DeBenedetto is Houston Public Media's senior digital producer, writing and editing stories for HoustonPublicMedia.org. Before joining the station, Paul worked as a web producer for the Houston Chronicle, and his work has appeared online and in print for the Chronicle, the New York Times, DNAinfo New York, and other...

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