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Travis County, State point fingers after 50% of mail-in ballot applications bounce

About 50% of applications for mail-in ballots for the March 1 primaries have been rejected by the Travis County Clerk’s Office under new Texas law SB1, leading the Secretary of State’s Office to call for review.

The review comes as Texas Secretary of State John Scott said he was “surprised to learn” about the high rejection rates and was not contacted by the Travis County Clerk's office. But Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said she has been trying to get in touch with the office and once called 33 times in one day.

In a press conference outside the Travis County Tax Office on Tuesday, she said the state has left them with no guidance as her office navigates the new law.

The law, signed in September by Gov. Greg Abbott, requires that applications for ballots by mail include a valid Driver’s License Number or last four digits of their Social Security Number. The number is then compared against the applicant’s voter registration record and rejected if it does not match.

As of Jan. 13, Travis County rejected roughly half of the 700 ballots it has received so far because people didn’t fill out the ID requirement or because the ID didn’t match. Meanwhile, Houston’s Harris County has rejected about 16% of the applications received so far.

The County Clerk’s office said many other counties are reporting similarly high rejection rates. Additionally, DeBeauvoir said she is prohibited from speaking to voters about voting by mail and can’t legally walk prospective voters through the process of fixing their application.

“Although we expect more comprehensive guidance from the Secretary of State’s Office in the future, at this time, our office does not have enough information regarding the new online cure process to instruct voters how to cure their application with the SOS,” a press release from the County Clerk’s Office said. “Additionally, we have not received instructions from the state outlining what our office can do to assist voters in submitting a completed application.”

DeBeauvoir, who has plans to retire this month, laid out the issues that have resulted in her office from the new law, starting with registration forms. With the pandemic-fueled paper shortage affecting printing new vote by mail applications and a new voter registration form that invalidates old forms, DeBeauvoir said she fears the new law targets county election officials.

The last day to apply for a ballot by mail for the March 1 primaries is Feb. 18.


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