I’m glad someone’s working on this.
After thousands of mail-in ballots were rejected in Texas’ statewide primaries in March, election officials and voting rights groups are stepping up efforts to make sure voters don’t run into the same problems with ballot rejections going forward.
Nearly 25,000 mail ballots were rejected for the March 1 primaries — a far higher rate than prior elections.
Some ballots were rejected because identifying data didn’t match what was on file. But election officials and voting groups say a design issue with the envelope that Texas voters use to return their mail ballots was most responsible for the rejections.
Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, says voters missed important instructions located right under the flap of the mail ballot return envelope. That is where voters have to provide either a partial Social Security number or their driver’s license number.
“Voters wouldn’t see [the section] if the flap is down,” she says. “It’s only visible if the flap is up. And the reason behind that was to keep it secret so people couldn’t get that [information] when it was going through the mail.”
Sam Taylor, assistant secretary of state for communications with the Texas secretary of state’s office, says election officials are also convinced that the new voter ID field on the envelope is what led to mass rejections.
“Based on the number of people who just missed it completely, I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to think that some people thought it was just an optional section,” Taylor says.
A lot of these changes were prompted by a voting law Republican state leaders enacted last year. Taylor says that among the changes, more information was required to be on the return envelope. That affected the envelope’s design.
“There’s more language that’s required, and as a result there is more language and text competing for the same amount of real estate,” he says.
Just so we’re clear, this is the Assistant Secretary of State for Communications confirming that the Republican voter suppression law did in fact suppress votes by making the process sufficiently confusing that thousands of regular voters cast ballots that had to be rejected. They could have ameliorated this problem by delaying implementation of the law until 2023, which would have given the SOS and county officials enough time to design a better mail ballot (which includes the envelope and any supplemental materials) as well as giving the SOS enough time to properly communicate the changes and anything else that county officials needed to know. But they didn’t, and this was the result. Again, I just want to be clear on that.
Chimene says the League of Women Voters of Texas has been working with the Center for Civic Design to create a pamphlet for Texas voters that breaks down everything they need to do to make sure their ballot is counted.
“And that involved simplifying the words and using images and graphics and using bolding and other methods that they specialize in to make voter information that makes sense,” Chimene says.
The plan is to get county election officials to include these pamphlets with vote-by-mail materials. Chimene says hopefully their easy-to-read guides will clear up any confusion.
I certainly hope that county election officials pay heed to this. I continue to maintain that the Texas Democratic Party, the county parties, the candidates and elected officials and affiliated groups and so on, also had and have a responsibility to communicate to their voters what they need to know and do to vote by mail. This is just too important to leave to anyone else, even if it is their job.
The good news is that we know that making changes like this can work, because Bexar County has proven it.
The mail ballots of Bexar County voters in the primary runoff are being returned at a significantly lower rate when compared to the March primary election earlier this year.
About one in five mail ballots for the March Primary were being rejected by the elections office under rigorous new standards set by the Texas Legislature under SB1, the state’s new controversial voting law. However, as of the day before the May primary runoff election, the rejection rate has dropped to less than 1% according to the Bexar County Elections Administrator.
About 16,000 mail ballots have been received by the office so far and the rejection rate is drastically lower than the 22% seen in March.
“The rejection rate for the Democrats is 0.9% and the rejection rate for the Republicans is 0.4% so we are genuinely thrilled,” said Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen.
There are twice as many Democratic Primary ballots that have been received compared to Republican Primary ballots, Callanen added.
In March, out of the 18,000 ballots received, about 4,000 were rejected.
After that, Callanen said her office made adjustments.
“Just from looking at the raw numbers right now, it looks like it worked,” she said.
That included an insert that was in both English and Spanish.
“We came up with an insert to put in there to assist the voters so they don’t miss on the envelopes with the very tiny print that they need to put on their (Texas Drivers License), or the last four of your social, so we are really excited and now at this point now we’re looking forward to November,” she said.
Another adjustment was increasing the font size on the envelope relating to the new SB1 requirements.
“What we basically did was, we took the area under the flap with all the legalese and we blew it up,” she said referring to the font size which she said was boosted to 12 point font.
We’ve discussed the Bexar County success story before, and I will bang the drum for their example again. I will also note that even within that, there’s room for improvement on the Dem side, which is why it’s important for the Texas Democratic establishment to take their own initiative. I can’t say this often or loudly enough: It is too important to do anything less.
These were the stories I found when I did my latest Google News search for mail ballot rejections. We should have final vote canvasses on Tuesday, so maybe we’ll get some numbers – and some reporting – from other counties as well. I will follow up and let you know.