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Thousands of Texans at risk of having ballots rejected in first test of new state law

A recently enacted voting law in the Lone Star State is tripping up voters, who are running out of time to correct their ballots.
Image: Texas Caps Mail-Vote Drop Sites, Amping Up Feud
A worker puts a ballot into a secure box at a drive-thru mail ballot hand delivery center in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 2, 2020.Sergio Flores / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Thousands of Texas ballots will be rejected unless voters take an extra step to correct them, election officials warned on the eve of Tuesday's primary.

The statewide election will be the first test of new identification requirements for voters who cast their ballots by mail, and county figures indicate many are already encountering problems.

In Harris County, almost 11,000 ballots — or 29 percent of mail ballots received so far — have been flagged for rejection as of Saturday, according to data from the office of the county elections administrator, Isabel Longoria. Harris is the largest county in the state, home to Houston and more than 4 million residents.

Election officials across the state are calling and emailing voters if they have their contact information, or mailing ballots back to alert them to the issues, but time is running out to make those changes.

Most voters must fix their ballots by the end of Tuesday, and can do so in-person, by mail or online, though some will be able to make changes at county elections offices through March 7 if the errors were discovered near the end of the early voting period.

In Travis County, home to the capital Austin and more than 1.2 million residents, 12 percent of the approximately 7,000 ballots received by election officials have been flagged for rejection, according to Victoria Hinojosa, a spokesman for the county.

In El Paso County, 26 percent of ballots — or 1,038 — have been rejected due to the new ID requirements, according to Lisa Wise, the county elections administrator.

In Collin County, approximately 17 percent of mail ballots have been flagged for rejection, according to Bruce Sherbet, elections administrator in the county that's home to more than 1 million people.

"Like other counties, almost every rejection is due to lack of an ID number on the returned ballot envelope," he wrote in an email to NBC News.

Those ballots could play a deciding role in primary races for statewide positions. Gov. Greg Abbott is facing two challengers — former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West and former state Sen. Don Huffines — while Attorney General Ken Paxton is up against Rep. Louie Gohmert, former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and land commissioner George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Republicans in the state Legislature overhauled the election code last year as former President Donald Trump pushed his lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, with a particular focus on mail ballots.

Among other changes to state law, voters are now required to include some form of identification — such as a driver’s license number — on mail ballot applications and the envelope they use to return their completed mail ballots. The law also limits early voting hours and empowers partisan poll watchers.

Texas Democrats fought against the new law for months, arguing the changes would disenfranchise voters and were unnecessary in light of exhaustive evidence that voter fraud is incredibly rare, and widespread fraud is non-existent. (Texas’ own exhaustive hunt for fraud in 2020 closed just 16 minor cases, according to the Houston Chronicle.)

“We have so many eligible, true, good voters who’ve always been part of the process that are now getting caught up in just this extra layer of bureaucracy,” Longoria told NBC News in February.