Early voting for the March 1 Republican and Democratic primaries begins Monday and runs through Feb. 25. Though it’s the first election since the passage of new state voting restrictions, most voters shouldn’t expect too many changes from the last time they went to the polls, said El Paso’s election official.
Unlike some Texas counties, El Paso never had 24-hour or widespread drive-thru voting — methods of encouraging voting during the 2020 general election now banned under Senate Bill 1.
“For the majority of the voters, there’s not going to be a lot of difference when voting in person” during early voting and on Election Day, said Lisa Wise, El Paso County election administrator.
The new voting restrictions that will most impact El Paso involve absentee voters, those who cast their ballot by mail.
Absentee voters must now provide the same identification number used to register to vote when applying for and returning their mail-in ballot. That ID is either their Texas driver’s license number or Social Security number.
County elections officials have rejected far higher numbers of mail ballot applications than usual due to missing or incorrect ID information. Officials are now reporting higher rejections of ballots themselves because of ID issues on the return envelope.
“There’s a spot up toward the top (of the envelope) where voters need to put either the last four digits of their Social Security number or their Texas driver’s license number,” Wise said. “The flap will cover that while it’s going through the mail so they don’t have to worry about it being visible to anyone except the ballot board and signature verification committees once we get that.”
Wise recommends that absentee voters include both their driver’s license and Social Security numbers on the return envelope. “That way we have as many numbers to cross check in our system as possible so we can accept (the ballot) on the first try,” she said.
Wise also encourages absentee voters to complete their ballots as soon as possible so the elections office has ample time to correct defective carrier envelopes. That could include the voter coming into the office to verify their ID information or the office sending the ballot back to the voter to be fixed.
Mail-in ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on March 1 if not postmarked, or by March 2 if postmarked on Election Day.
Wise said her office mailed out 4,600 absentee ballots last week.
Texas limits mail-in voting to those who are 65 or older, sick or disabled, out of the county or expected to give birth during the election period, or in jail. Eligible voters have until Feb. 18 to apply to vote by mail in the March 1 primaries.
As in previous elections, El Paso again has countywide voting centers, meaning voters can cast their ballot at any polling location in the county.
Thirty-four polling sites will be open during early voting. Polls will be closed Monday, Feb. 21 for President’s Day. The locations and hours can be found here.
More than 100 polling sites will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day on Tuesday, March 1. Those locations can be found here.
Cover photo: Voters are called into the El Paso County Eastside Annex to cast their ballots during early voting in October 2020. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)