Texas county rejects half of mail-in ballot applications amid new voter restrictions

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<span>Photograph: Eric Gay/AP</span>
Photograph: Eric Gay/AP

Election officials in the Texas county that includes the state capital, Austin, have rejected about half of applications for mail-in ballots, following new voting restrictions brought in by Republicans.

The voter identification rules have led to the rejection of about half of the 700 mail-in ballots requested in Travis county for primary elections in March, according to the county’s clerk.

The denied ballots in Travis county follow a similar trend across Texas, with officials in Harris county, which includes the city of Houston, and Bexar county, which includes San Antonio, also turning down a substantial number of mail-in ballot applications.

Republicans in several states have sought to impose voting restrictions in the wake of baseless allegations of voter fraud by Donald Trump, the twice-impeached former president who has struggled to accept the reality that he was beaten fairly by Joe Biden in last year’s presidential election.

Related: Alarm as Texas quietly restarts controversial voting program

In Texas, state Republicans last year enacted new voting laws that require absentee voters to include their driver’s license number, state ID number or the last four digits of their social security number on their applications. Counties then have to match this information with voter profiles to approve them for a mail-in ballot.

The new rules also ban drive-through and 24-hour voting and allow more access to partisan poll watchers. The Biden administration has decried the wave of voting restrictions around the country as undemocratic and the US justice department has filed a lawsuit claiming that Texas’ new laws disenfranchised eligible voters contrary to their civil rights.

The Travis county clerk’s office said it had not received enough information from the Texas secretary of state to help voters provide the correct information. “Many other counties are experiencing the same high rejection rate,” the office told the Washington Post. “We have not received instructions from the state outlining what our office can do to assist voters in submitting a completed application.”

The secretary of state, however, said he was “surprised” by the high rejection rate in Travis county and called on officials to revisit the ballots. “We anxiously await the results of their re-processing of these mail ballot applications,” said John Scott, a Republican. “We urge all county election officials to contact the Texas secretary of state’s office to seek advice and assistance on the correct method of processing mail-in ballot applications.”

Biden has sought to confront Republicans on voting rights restrictions, stating in a speech in Atlanta last week that “they want chaos to reign. We want the people to rule.” The president lent his weight to a push to drop the filibuster in an evenly-divided US Senate to allow for a new voting rights act to pass, only to be stymied by the opposition of the centrist Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin.

Related: Sinema says no to filibuster reform to scuttle Democrats’ voting rights hopes

Civil rights leaders are continuing to call for change, however, ahead of a federal holiday on Monday to mark the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Members of the civil rights titan’s family will be in Arizona, another state to clamp down on voting rights, for the holiday to mobilize support for the stalled bill.

Martin Luther King III, the civil rights leader’s oldest son, told the Guardian: “We’re gonna continue to push to get something done. Because to me, it’s fundamental to the foundation of our democracy. It’s those on the other side who seem to have lost the perception of what democracy is.”

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