The percentage of mail-in ballots rejected in Harris County during last week's primary skyrocketed compared to the last midterm election — a change the county elections administrator has blamed on the state's strict new election law.
Of the 36,878 mail ballots received in time for the 2022 primary, 6,888 were rejected specifically due to new ID requirements related to Senate Bill 1. That's about 19%.
SB 1 required Texans seeking to vote by mail to include their driver's license number of Social Security number on both their application and the carrier envelope for the application and ballot. Many voters neglected to fill out one or both of these, or filled out the wrong number, and were flagged for rejection as a result.
"These requirements are new and specific to SB 1, so as we were processing and looking through the number of mail ballots we received, we were also tracking those that had issues specific to the ID requirements," said Leah Shah, director of communications and voter outreach for the Harris County Elections Administrator.
By comparison, Harris County rejected 135 mail ballots for all causes during the 2018 primary out of a total of 48,473 mail ballots received – a total of less than 0.3%.
"There are a number of reasons why we're seeing a lower number of people voting by mail in this year," Shah said. "That has to do first with delayed redistricting...processes and the ability for campaigns to get mail ballot applications out to voters. Also, it depends on the primary year and the number of hotly contested races that we see."
Of the 7,750 mail ballots originally flagged for rejection due to ID issues, 849 were able to correct their ballots by the deadline. An additional 13 were unable to do so, or opted out of voting by mail altogether, and cast their ballots in person.
Shah SB 1 led to widespread confusion among voters, pointing to an explosion of 8,000 calls the office had received between January and March 1 for help navigating the voting process.
As a result, the office doubled the number of staff dedicated to voter outreach.
The law led to higher rejection rates across the state. In Travis County the mail-in ballot rejection rate was 8%, up from about 2% in 2018. Williamson County saw an 11.5% rejection rate, what that county’s elections administrator told KUT was “absolutely higher than anything we've ever encountered before.”
In a statement, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said that, since its formation in 2020, the office had increased the number of registered voters in a non-presidential year, increased turnout in nearly every election it hosted, and increased access to voting by mail.
"These restrictive voting laws continue to undermine our efforts to expand voter access and instead make voting harder," Longoria said.
Longoria resigned earlier this week under a torrent of pressure from both parties, following a nearly 30-hour delay in the release of vote totals after polls closed on primary election night and the misplacement of more than 10,000 mail ballots in the unofficial count.
Longoria said she would remain in office until July 1, pending the selection of her replacement. "I remain committed to the office and its mission, and hope to aid in defeating harmful rhetoric to ensure successful elections in the future," Longoria said.
The Harris County Republican Party has filed a lawsuit against Longoria, seeking independent oversight of future elections, including the primary runoff election scheduled for late May.
Republican Commissioner Tom Ramsey has been one of the advocates insisting on such oversight.
“In my opinion, the repetitive dysfunction of the unelected and frankly unaccountable County Elections Administrator Longoria is simply unbelievable,” Ramsey told Houston Public Media on Monday. “Clearly, she is not qualified, or clearly, does not understand what it takes to run an election of this magnitude, or maybe of any magnitude.”