Early voting for the March 1 primary election is underway.

We try not to draw too many conclusions from the first two days of early voting, but it is not off to the record-breaking starts we have observed in recent elections. In the 15 counties with the most registered voters – our longtime measuring stick for early voting turnout – a total of 67K have voted in the Republican primary and 66K in the Democratic primary through the first two days of early voting.

So far, Republican turnout in those counties is:

  • 32% behind the total through two days in 2020
  • Almost the same as the total through two days in 2018, and
  • The fewest to vote through Day 2 since 2010 (51K).

Of the 15 counties, only Hidalgo Co. saw an increase over 2020. The two-day total there – 1,540 voters – is the highest-ever for the Republican primary in that county.

The total of 66K Democratic voters in those counties is:

  • Barely half the number who voted on or before Day 2 in 2020
  • 12% fewer than the number who voted on or before Day 2 in 2018, and
  • The fewest to vote on or before Day 1 since 2014 (46K).

All 15 counties experienced reduced turnout from 2020, and 11 of them have seen fewer voters so far than in 2018.

Statewide, 146K Republicans and 94K Democrats voted in person on, or by mail on or before, yesterday, the first day of the early voting period, representing 1.4% of the state’s 17.2M registered voters. Nearly 1M more Texans are registered to vote for this election than the 2020 primary election, and nearly 2M more are registered than in 2018.

An unusually high number of returned mail ballots have been returned to voters by county officials under a new law enacted last year. Senate Bill 1 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) requires carrier envelopes holding completed ballots to include – while keeping private – the voters’ driver license number or a portion of their Social Security number. Voters must write these numbers in blanks located under the adhesive flap that seals the carrier envelope. This step is likely being overlooked many the voters sending rejected ballots.

This may help explain discrepancies between the total number of ballot-by-mail voters reported to the Secretary of State and the total number of mail ballots returned reported by county election officials. In Harris Co., the difference between those figures suggests a rejection rate as high as 36% among all voters split unevenly between Republicans (29%) and Democrats (40%):

  • Republicans: 2,015 mail ballots returned vs. 1,439 cumulative BBM voters, suggesting as many as 576 BBMs were rejected
  • Democrats: 3,487 mail ballots returned vs. 2,080 cumulative BBM voters, suggesting as many as 1,407 BBMs were rejected
  • Combined: 5,502 mail ballots returned vs. 3,519 cumulative BBM voters, a difference of 1,983.

There could be other explanations for these significant differences in reported figures, but ballot rejection is likely the largest contributor. The county election administrator told the Texas Tribune’s Alexa Ura that 40% of mail ballots received thus far had to be returned to voters because they lacked that identifying number.

A quick glance at some of other larger counties indicated similar results, though typically a bit lower suggested rejection rates than those of Harris Co. Again, this is not a definitive analysis. We are making some assumptions about why numbers reported to the Secretary of State are significantly lower than county-reported numbers, and the new BBM carrier envelope requirements are the likeliest, though not only, explanation.

©2022 Texas Election Source LLC