Almost half of El Paso County’s mail-in ballots received in the first week of early voting were rejected because they didn’t comply with a new state election law.

More than 1,000 mail-in ballots received by the elections department for the March 1 primary had been rejected as of Saturday, according to county elections data analyzed by El Paso Matters. Almost all those ballots – 98% – were in the Democratic primary. Only 54 Republican mail-in ballots had been received, of which 20 were rejected.

“There’s a component in SB 1 (the voting change law passed last year by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature) that requires the voter to put either their driver’s license/state ID or last four of their Social Security number,” County Elections Administrator Lisa Wise said.

That requirement means voters have to remember which number they used when registering to vote, in some cases decades earlier. Submitting the wrong number, or no ID number at all, will lead to a ballot being rejected.

Wise recommends that people voting by mail put both their driver’s license number and the last four digits of their Social Security number on their return ballot envelope to minimize chances of rejection.

In prior years, 5 to 10% of El Paso mail-in ballots were rejected because of deficiencies, Wise said. Through Saturday, 45% of the 2022 primary mail ballots have been rejected.

Wise said 106 of the rejected ballots have been “cured” so far, meaning the issue was corrected so the ballots can be counted.

“Voters are able to either come in person and cure their ballot or resubmit the ballot with the needed information. They’re notified of the defect and options to cure it,” Wise said.

Click here for our Voter Guide, which provides the information you need as you prepare to vote in the primary election

About 1,400 mail-in ballot applications were rejected, also largely because of the requirement to list either a driver’s license number or partial Social Security number that matches what was provided when the voter registered, Wise said. That’s about 20% of total applications. Wise said about 600 of those voters fixed the issue by the Feb. 18 deadline to apply to vote by mail in the March 1 election.

Details of the rejected mail-in votes won’t be available until after the election, but it’s likely most of the rejected ballots came from women. In the 2018 primary election, 59% of El Paso’s mail-in voters were women; so far in 2022, 55% of accepted mail-in ballots have come from women.

Even before the legal changes, Texas limited vote by mail to people over 65, people with disabilities, those who would be out of the county for early voting and election day, people expecting to give birth within three weeks of the election, and those in jail and otherwise eligible to vote.

Mail-in ballots will be accepted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day, March 1.

Early voting began Feb. 14 and continues through Friday, Feb. 25.

The number of Republican early votes cast is the highest for the first week of early voting in a midterm primary election since 2010, the last time a Democratic president faced his first midterm election. Political scientists have found that the party losing the presidential election is usually more motivated to vote in the following midterm than the winner’s party. 

Democratic early votes are well below the numbers cast at the same point in 2018, when Republican Donald Trump faced a midterm election. But Democratic vote totals are higher than the numbers in 2010 and 2014, the two midterm elections during the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama.

Cover photo: Poll workers promoted candidates Saturday at Chayo Apodaca Community Center in Socorro. (Ramon Bracamontes/El Paso Matters)

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986.