AUSTIN (KXAN) — With mail-in ballot applications rejected at 27% in Travis County, the Texas Secretary of State wants county elections officials to “immediately review and re-examine” them.
Secretary of State John Scott said on Jan. 14 that he was “surprised to learn” Travis County elections officials had rejected a substantial portion of all mail-in ballot applications.
County officials originally made the announcement Jan. 13, saying the state hasn’t provided enough help so they can tell people how to fix their applications. Since, officials from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office said they are working with Travis County and other regions around the state to provide proper guidance on the application process.
“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 county press release said. “Additionally, we have not received instructions from the state outlining what our office can do to assist voters in submitting a completed application.”
County officials said there hasn’t been a final rejection of any applications, only that they need “additional guidance” from the Secretary of State’s office. County officials held a press conference Tuesday morning to discuss what outgoing county clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said is a “complicated issue.”
“Before we actually take action on those rejections, we have what looks like might be down to a 27% rejection rate,” DeBeauvoir said at the press conference. “That is still extremely high. It is not unusual for primaries to have a higher [rate] than in comparison with other elections, a higher rate of rejection. But that’s really high.”
The newly-passed law, dubbed by Texas Republicans as a “voter integrity” law, requires mail-in ballot applicants to provide a valid driver’s license number or the last four digits of their social security number to match their voter registration record. If those numbers don’t match, the application is, by law, automatically rejected. DeBeauvoir said this can be extremely problematic for voters who registered to vote decades ago and may not remember what they originally registered with.
“The voter is playing a guessing game with this,” she said. “Was it my driver’s license number? Did I use my social security number? Do you remember what you signed up with? I didn’t.”
Scott said no one at Travis County’s office asked for help and wants them to reach out so the applications can be approved before the March 1 primary election.
“Travis County made the decision to reject these mail ballot applications before contacting our office,” he said. “We call on Travis County to immediately review and re-examine the mail ballot applications in question to determine whether they were processed in accordance with state law, with the goal of reinstating and minimizing any disruption to eligible voters who have properly submitted their application for ballot by mail.”
DeBeauvoir disputed that claim, adding the county clerk’s office made multiple attempts to reach the Secretary of State’s office before getting through with clarifying questions.
The Texas Tribune reports other counties are having similar issues with mail-in ballot applications rejections. Harris County has rejected about 16% of its total applications while Bexar County has rejected more than 200 applications because the entire identification section wasn’t filled out. Another 150 applications were rejected because driver’s license numbers didn’t match.
DeBeauvoir said her job in assisting voters becomes even more difficult, due to other changes in the law that make it illegal for county election officials to tell voters what to do if their mail-in ballot application is rejected.
“I would love to have done more communication about this but I am hamstrung,” she said. “…If I do anything else to promote vote by mail I am in danger of a state jail felony.”
She said because of this, she will have to rely on the community and members of the media to explain to voters how to remedy a rejected application for mail-in voting.
First and foremost, voters need to make sure they are sending in the newest request form for mail-in voting. That can be found on the Texas Secretary of State’s website, here. Secondly, DeBeauvoir said if voters are unsure what identification number they originally registered to vote with, they should write down both their Texas drivers’ license number, as well as the last four digits of their social security number.
The Travis County Clerk’s office is in the middle of a big change. With longtime clerk DeBeauvoir retiring Jan. 28, Rebecca Guerrero is slated to take over as an interim clerk for 2022. Guerero has worked in the clerk’s office for the past 22 years, with the last six years as the Director of Recording.
This story has been updated following clarification from the Travis County Clerk’s office and Office of the Texas Secretary State that the previous statement of a 50% rejection rate of mail-in ballot applications in Travis County was actually 27%.