Last year, after the Texas legislature passed a slew of new voting rules, state election officials were driving. Shortly after being appointed last fall, Secretary of State John B. Scott had to launch an aggressive education campaign to explain these new rules to voters and local election officials.
But the training and material deployment was slow, which wreaked havoc in the primary. The most affected were seniors and others who voted by regular mail. Statewide, about 12% of mail-in ballots (more than 24,000 votes) were rejected.
Scott’s office deserved the criticism it received at the time. But state leaders are active in educating voters for the general election, and county officials are happy to layer their own information campaigns on top of state marketing efforts.
Last time, what tripped thousands of mail-in voters was a new requirement to include part of their driver’s license number or Social Security number on ballots and physical ballot envelopes. According to Texas’ new voting rules, that number must match what’s on that voter’s file.
The state allows 95% of voters in Texas to access both numbers. County and state officials said the main problem was that many voters simply didn’t fill out the fields. They blamed the placement of the field under the flap of the envelope.
The good news is that Texas has changed the envelope to make it more clear by highlighting that section with a bold red box, according to Secretary of State spokesman Sam Taylor. We are including a colorful insert in our mail-in ballots to ensure we are aware of your identification requirements.
Nick Sorosano, communications manager for the Dallas County Elections Office, said county officials are also including inserts for mail-in ballots. And they’re taking the extra step of calling voters whose ballot applications have been denied to help them resolve the issue.
County elections officials and the secretary of state acknowledge the insert and voter experience in improving ballot rejection rates. In May’s primary runoff, the rejection rate was around 4% of the votes cast for each party.
The new requirement to include ID when filling out mail-in ballots is a reasonable rule. It protects older voters who are sometimes targeted by unscrupulous campaigners who manipulate them into voting in certain ways. But changing the ballot form was bound to cause confusion, and state officials should have expected that.
They seem to have caught up. Taylor said the secretary of state is rolling out radio and television ads, billboards and other marketing this fall. He also shares free educational materials with county officials, nonprofits, and other groups. The informational tour, which launched in August, includes the State Fair in Dallas and his two senior expositions in North Texas.
Too many things went wrong for Texas voters in the recent election. I hope election officials have learned from their mistakes.
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