Bexar County Commissioners on Tuesday directed local officials to come up with a plan to reduce the number of rejected mail-in ballots in upcoming elections after the county — and Texas — saw record high rejection rates in the March primary.

As many as 22% of mail-in ballots were rejected in Bexar County. Before the new election law took effect, the rejection rate was 2-3%, Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen has said.

A statewide analysis by the Associated Press showed about 13% of mail ballots sent to election offices across Texas were thrown out for various errors, many tied to the new, stricter voting rules backed by Republican lawmakers.

“We want to get some feedback from our lawyers in terms of what we can and can’t do in terms of a public outreach campaign,” said Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2), who initiated the process that was approved by the court Tuesday. “The important thing is we want … their votes to count, we want it to be safe and secure.”

The county will have to walk a fine legal line in any awareness campaign, as public officials are now not allowed to promote voting by mail.

“We want to be within the confines of the law, but I think a thorough legal analysis will be helpful,” Rodriguez said.

The Bexar County Elections and District Attorney’s offices will make recommendations ahead of the November election, he said. That may involve hiring more election staff, a coordinated awareness campaign or other mechanisms that may require funding.

“I just want to help educate people because it can be a little bit of a confusing process,” said Bexar County attorney Jean Gill. “When one voter understands the steps, they can tell their friends and all their other friends.”

Some elements of the mitigation plan could be in place before the May primary candidate runoffs, which will include the state’s constitutional amendment election and the city’s bond election, but Rodriguez said November is the priority.

“We can try our best in terms of quick turnaround, but I think we need to make sure that we have a solid legal basis for what we do,” he said.

Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republican lawmakers have said the new rules would make it “easier to vote and harder to cheat” in the wake of claims that voter fraud occurred in the 2020 presidential election. To date, there has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Democrats and voting rights advocates have argued that the new laws equate to voter suppression.

“Despite what the motive was — whether it was pure or evil — the reality is, from a practical perspective, it impacted voters and there were some folks that were disenfranchised,” Rodriguez said, in particular, senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org