The Texas Secretary of State’s Office and the El Paso County Elections Department are making extra efforts to educate voters about the proper way to request, fill out and submit mail-in ballots ahead of the Nov. 8 general election, after a new state election law led to unprecedented rejection rates during the primaries.

That educational push began immediately after the March primary and ramped up during August, said Sam Taylor, a spokesperson with the Texas secretary of state. The state’s multimedia campaign has included billboards, mailers, radio and television ads, and social media.

The county elections department is including state-approved notices about the new rules in the mail ballots it sends out, something it started toward the end of the March primary, according to Elections Administrator Lisa Wise.

These efforts helped lower the number of rejected mail-in ballots in the May primary runoff election, and have put mail-in voters in a better position to submit acceptable ballots for the general election, Wise and Taylor said.

The statewide rejection rate was less than 4% for the May 24 primary runoffs compared to approximately 12% in the March primary, Taylor said. In El Paso County, only 2% of mail-in ballots were kicked back in the runoffs compared to the primary’s 15% rejection rate, according to elections department data.

So far, 17% of county mail ballots cast for the Nov. 8 election have been sent back for voters to correct, about a third of the rate rejected during the first week of early voting in  the primary. Wise stressed that this rate fluctuates daily as more ballots are received.

Voters have a few ways to correct their rejected mail-in ballots, Wise said. If a ballot was returned to the voter via mail, the voter has until 7 p.m. on Election Day to return it to the elections department via mail or the El Paso County Courthouse drop spot. If the rejected ballot is in the department’s possession, an office representative will contact the voter by phone. Those voters will have until six days after Election Day to come to the elections department to fix their ballots.

Volunteers wait for mail ballot drop-offs outside the El Paso County Courthouse on May 24. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Texas now requires people casting their ballot by mail to provide either their driver’s license number or state-issued ID number, or the last four digits of their Social Security number on the ballot carrier envelope. A missing ID number or a different number from the one someone used to initially register to vote are grounds for the ballot to be rejected.

The same ID information must also be included on someone’s application to receive a mail-in ballot.

Texas Republicans said the additional identification was needed to prevent voter fraud, despite no evidence of widespread fraud in recent state elections. Opponents said the new law, which the Texas Legislature passed in 2021, was created to make voting more difficult.

For the general election, the state updated the design of the ballot carrier envelope to draw more attention to the ID field under the envelope’s flap. The new version has a bold, red box around the ID field similar to the bold, red box around the signature box. A missing signature is another grounds for rejection.

Because voters may not remember which identification number they used when they registered to vote, state and county officials recommend that voters provide their state-issued ID number and the last four digits of their Social Security number on the envelope and the ballot application.

“When in doubt, fill both out,” Wise said.

“As long as one matches what is on their voter registration record, the ballot can be accepted,” Taylor said in an email.

Voters eligible to vote by mail have until Oct. 28 to apply to receive a mail-in ballot, if they have not already requested to receive mail-in ballots for this year. Wise said her office had received 9,330 mail-in ballots requests as of Monday.

Texas limits vote by mail to those who are age 65 or older on Election Day, sick or disabled, expect to give birth within three weeks of Election Day, or in jail but be otherwise eligible to vote. Voters who will be out of the county on Election Day and during the two-week early voting period also are eligible to vote by mail.

Graciela Cortez’s primary election ballot was initially rejected due to her unfamiliarity with new vote-by-mail restrictions. (Daniel Perez/El Paso Matters)

Graciela Cortez, 80, a retired seamstress living in Northeast El Paso, is one of the more than 506,000 registered voters in El Paso County. She requested her first mail-in ballot in 2021 because she suffered from a painful back.

The county returned her primary mail-in ballot because she did not include an identification number on the carrier envelope, but she was able to correct it ahead of the election. 

Cortez said she thought that her ballot issues were past, but her general election ballot got kicked back because it was one of 6,000 ballots that did not include the Texas agriculture commissioner race. She laughed at the silliness of the situation, but shared that she already had filled out the correct ballot and mailed it back to the elections department on Tuesday.

“I hope there are no mistakes this time,” Cortez said.

Bob Peña, El Paso County Republican Party election administrator, said that his office is reminding voters of the legal requirements to identify themselves with one or two personal identification numbers. He believes the new law gives voters “a little more faith in the system” of mail-in ballots.

Michael Apodaca, El Paso County Democratic Party chair, said that the local and statewide party offices have used phone calls, emails and postcards to reach residents who often request a mail-in ballot, and remind them to follow state law and include their personal identification numbers on their application and ballot. The only concerns he has heard regarding mail-in ballots this election involved the county’s issue with the missing agriculture commissioners race.

“I hope at some point in time (voting) will be easier, but it will take people voting to get equal access to the voting box,” Apodaca said. “So, make sure you go vote.”

Daniel Perez covers higher education for El Paso Matters, in partnership with Open Campus. He has written on military and higher education issues in El Paso for more than 30 years.