Texas voting law faces first statewide test in Tuesday’s election.

The primary election on Tuesday in Texas marked the first statewide test of a sweeping law that added new restrictions to voting and that has threatened to keep some voters’ absentee ballots from being counted.

There were no major reports of long lines or of outside groups threatening or intimidating voters on Tuesday morning, as a steady, if slight, stream of voters cast their ballots.

Early voting in the primary was in line with previous midterm primaries. About 9 percent of registered voters cast ballots early in the 15 most populous counties in the state, almost exactly the same share as voted early in the 2018 midterm primaries, according to data from the Texas secretary of state’s office.

But both the rejection of absentee ballots and the return of ballots deemed defective surged in the early voting period. Roughly 30 percent of the ballots received were rejected in the state’s most populous counties, almost exclusively because new regulations required voters to put their driver’s license number or partial Social Security number on their ballots. In the 2020 election, the overall rejection rate in the state was below 1 percent.

The high number of absentee ballot rejections has challenged Texas Republicans’ assertions that the new voting law makes it “easier to vote, and harder to cheat.” The law also included new provisions that expanded the autonomy of partisan poll watchers, elevated criminal penalties for election workers and banned new voting methods first tried during the 2020 election, including drive-through voting and 24-hour voting.

A Guide to the Texas Primary

The 2022 midterm elections begin with the state’s primary on March 1.

Those provisions are unlikely to face a true test in the primary on Tuesday. Lower turnout in primaries puts less strain on the election system.

Absentee voting in Texas represents a small slice of the electorate, as only those over age 65 or who have a verified excuse may cast an absentee ballot by mail. A key question still left unanswered is how many of the rejected ballots will be fixed — or cured, as election officials call it — and eventually counted.

But the new process for fixing ballots, which was passed as a separate law from the sweeping election overhaul, has also been hampered by confusion. Some voters have been uncertain about their exact deadline for fixing their ballots and whether those ballots can be cured through the mail or in person.

Turnout in Texas primaries is often low, and has not served as an accurate predictor of general election turnout for November. Still, what appeared to be a low turnout early in the day on Tuesday was a sign that the voting bonanza of 2020 may not extend to 2022.

More than 11.3 million Texas voters cast a ballot in the presidential election in 2020, a 10 percent jump from 2016 in a state that had often lagged near the bottom of the country for voter turnout. The spike was at least partially caused by a surge in early voting, as eligible voters embraced mail voting and others flocked to early in-person voting as a means of safely casting a ballot during the pandemic.

Democrats and civil rights groups argued that the new law, passed by Republicans in the Texas Legislature, was drafted in part as a response to the surge in turnout and the change in voter behavior during the pandemic, especially as more Democrats embraced mail-in voting.

It is difficult to compare early voting numbers to previous years. This year’s election marked the first time the secretary of state published early voting data across all 254 Texas counties for a midterm primary. Previously, the state had only tracked the 15 most populous counties.


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