Voters wait in line at a polling site at Austin Oaks Church during early voting.
Voters wait in line at a polling site at Austin Oaks Church during early voting. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

By Jeremy Schwartz, The Texas Tribune and ProPublica and Mandi Cai, The Texas Tribune

After the conclusion of three weeks of early voting, 9.7 million Texans have cast ballots, crushing previous early voting totals in the state and setting Texas on a course for record turnout in this Tuesday's general election.

At least 9,709,376 voters cast early ballots, according to preliminary final numbers released by the Texas Secretary of State and the counties on Saturday morning. That is 57.3% percent of registered voters, just shy of the overall turnout of 59.4% in 2016 by 2 percentage points.

Of those early votes, 8,738,363 were cast in person; 971,013 were cast by mail.

Early voting, which Gov. Abbott extended by six days this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, has already eclipsed total votes during the 2016 general election, when 8,969,226 Texans voted.

Texas has added 1.8 million registered voters since the 2016 election. But the state has not surpassed 60% turnout of registered voters since the early 1990s.

Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said he expects Election Day totals to push the state’s final vote count further into record breaking territory - as high as 12 or 12.5 million. Such a grand total would bring the Texas turnout percentage beyond 70%, a new high in the modern era.

Jones said the state’s 2020 turnout percentage will “probably take us out of the doldrums, where Texas has been regularly and to at least into the middle of the pack nationally.”

That would continue a more recent trend. Voter turnout as a percentage of voting-eligible population in the 2018 Texas midterm elections increased by 18 percentage points compared with the previous midterms, the country's sixth-highest increase. In Texas, 46.3 percent voted in 2018. Nationwide, turnout was 50.1 percent.

One driver of increased turnout has been the high numbers in the state’s most populous counties, such as Harris County, where more than 1.4 million people have already voted, compared to 1.34 million including Election Day in 2016.

County officials there have worked to increase early voting participation, providing 24-hour polling centers on the last night of early voting, as well as an option for drive-through voting, which more than 117,000 county residents took advantage of. Republicans have challenged the legality of the drive-thru ballots. After initially rejecting a challenge last week, the Texas Supreme Court on Friday asked the county to respond to a subsequent petition seeking to invalidate the drive-through votes.

A Texas Tribune analysis has found that the counties that are home to Texas’ four biggest cities — Houston’s Harris County, San Antonio’s Bexar County, Dallas County and Austin’s Travis County — saw an increase of 630,796 registered voters since 2016, according to data collected by the Texas secretary of state.

Those cities tend to provide Democrat majorities, and high early voting totals mean that Biden could enjoy an initial lead when early voting results are announced Tuesday night, Jones said. Depending on how high the lead is, Republicans may need “exceptionally high” Election Day turnout to win, he added.

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The Tribune’s analysis shows that counties in reliably red territory outside of major metro and suburban counties have gained 522,972 registered voters since 2016.

But while some of those traditionally Republican counties also saw high early turnout, many are behind the statewide turnout. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll in October found that Republicans were more likely than Democrats to vote in-person on Election Day.

Democratic officials struck a tone of guarded optimism on Saturday. “Texas Democrats feel confident where we’re at but know that we still have a lot of work left to be done,” said Manny Garcia, the executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, in a statement. “Texans are demanding change.”

The Texas GOP did not respond to a request for comment Saturday.

High turnout this year also reflects the increasingly competitive nature of Texas politics, where a Democrat has not won a statewide race in more than two decades.

In addition to the tightly contested presidential election, Texas’s senate race is a close battle between Republican incumbent John Cornyn and Democratic challenger MJ Hegar, and the state also features dozens of close legislative and congressional races. Democrats are hoping to flip the Texas House, and as many as 12 congressional seats are being seriously contested.

“All of which makes for much greater voter mobilization,” Jones said.

This article is republished with permission from The Texas Tribune. Read the original post here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Texas mail-in ballots require voters to sign the outer envelope.
Texas mail-in ballots require voters to sign the outer envelope. Photo by Charlie Pearce for The Texas Tribune

By Karen Brooks Harper, The Texas Tribune

If they decide the signature on the ballot can't be verified, Texas election officials may continue rejecting mail-in ballots without notifying voters until after the election that their ballot wasn't counted, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

The appeals court halted a lower court’s injunction, which had not gone into effect, that would have required the Texas secretary of state to either advise local election officials that mail-in ballots may not be rejected using the existing signature-comparison process, or require them to set up a notification system giving voters a chance to challenge a rejection while their vote still counts.

Requiring such a process would compromise the integrity of the mail-in ballots “as Texas officials are preparing for a dramatic increase of mail-in voting, driven by a global pandemic,” reads the Monday opinion issued by Judge Jerry E. Smith.

“Texas’s strong interest in safeguarding the integrity of its elections from voter fraud far outweighs any burden the state’s voting procedures place on the right to vote,” Smith wrote.

Before mail-in ballots are counted, a committee of local election officials reviews them to ensure that a voter’s endorsement on the flap of a ballot envelope matches the signature that voter used on their application to vote by mail. They can also compare it to signatures on file with the county clerk or voter registrar that were made within the last six years.

The state election code does not establish any standards for signature review, which is conducted by local election officials who seldom have training in signature verification.

Voters must be notified within 10 days after the election that their ballot was rejected, but state election law does not require affording them an opportunity to challenge the rejection, the appeals court ruling noted.

In August 2019, two voters, George Richardson of Brazos County and Rosalie Weisfeld of McAllen, filed suit after their mail-in ballots were rejected by local officials who decided the signatures on the envelopes in which their ballots were returned were not theirs.

The voters — joined by groups representing Texans with disabilities, veterans and young voters — argued the state law allowing local election officials to reject mail-in ballots based on perceived mismatching signatures violates the 14th Amendment.

The lawsuit claims at least 1,873 mail-in ballots were rejected on the basis of mismatched signatures during the 2018 general election; at least 1,567 were rejected in 2016.

On Sept. 8, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled that the state’s process for matching signatures “plainly violates certain voters’ constitutional rights,” and ordered the state to either abandon the practice or come up with some mechanism that lets voters get their ballots counted.

The injunction has been under an administrative stay by the 5th Circuit since Sept. 11, three days after it was issued, and will now remain on hold while the state challenges the underpinnings of Garcia's decision.

Plaintiffs said they will now push counties to voluntarily give early notice to voters whose ballots are rejected for signature-match issues, allowing them a chance to rectify the situation and let their vote count.

“It will affect this 2020 election, so voters will not be notified in time, and so I think the main thing we’re trying to do now is notify counties that ballot boards are not required to give pre-election day notice, but they can,” said H. Drew Galloway, executive director of MOVE Texas, a plaintiff. “We encourage them to follow the original intent of the lower courts here so folks (whose ballots were rejected) can go vote in person, or contest that decision.”

Texas offers voting by mail to people with disabilities, Texans who are 65 and older, voters who will be outside of the county during an election, and those in jail during an election.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at texastribune.org/2020/10/19/texas-mail-in-ballots-signatures/.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Voters waited in line Wednesday at a polling site at Bee Cave City Hall.
Voters waited in line Wednesday at a polling site at Bee Cave City Hall. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Texas has reached almost 17 million registered voters for the November election, according to the secretary of state's office.

The office said Friday evening that its final registration total for the Nov. 3 election is 16,955,519. That represents 1.9 million more voters than Texas had for the 2016 presidential election.

The deadline to register to vote was Oct. 5, and election officials have spent the time since then processing applications. On Monday, the day before early voting started, the secretary of state's office said the registration total was 16,901,784.

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The precise increase from the 2016 election is 1,854,432. Of that increase, 1.2 million came after the 2018 midterm election.

This article is republished with permission from The Texas Tribune. Read the original post here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

HERON FILE PHOTO

As early voting starts today amid the coronavirus pandemic, you may find yourself considering various options to stay safe while casting your ballot.

If you want to vote in person, you have from today through Oct. 30. Like in recent elections, you can cast a ballot at any of the polling sites in Bexar County, either during early voting or on Election Day. There are 47 locations to choose from with the following hours: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday Oct. 13-17; 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Oct. 19-24; noon-6 p.m. Sundays; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. the week of Oct. 26-30. For more info, visit the Bexar County website.

If you're looking to vote by mail, you must request a ballot by Oct. 23, and meet eligibility requirements some voting rights advocates consider are too stringent considering social distancing guidelines.

At stake is the race for U.S. president, as well as congressional races, various state and county positions, and local propositions from deciding the future of Pre-K 4 SA, to deciding on a workforce program called Ready to Work. For more on what's on the ballot, we recommend this Voter's Guide by the League of Women Voters of the San Antonio Area.

Voting by mail

In May, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that exposure to Covid-19 is not reason enough to vote by mail for many Texans, as opposed to states like California and Colorado, which offer universal mail-in voting.

Texas residents are eligible for mail-in ballots if:

» You are 65 years old or older

» You are sick or have a disability

» You are incarcerated but legally allowed to vote

» You will be out of the county you are registered in during both early voting and Election Day

The court does allow individuals to decide if other health conditions, like asthma or a history of smoking, combined with potential exposure, qualifies them for absentee voting. If you decide this applies to you, you must indicate so by checking the “disability” box on the application and describe which scenario applies to you.

To meet the deadline, Ballot by Mail application applications can be hand delivered to the Bexar County Elections office or arrive by mail no later than Oct. 23. Applications are available at public libraries; or call the elections office at 210-335-8683 for more instructions.

How to vote by mail in Bexar County:

» Vote-by-mail ballots can be delivered in-person to the Bexar County Elections office during polling hours; if you are mailing your completed ballot, it must be postmarked by 7 p.m. Nov. 3 and received by 5 p.m. the next day to be counted in the election.

Vote by mail applications and ballots must be mailed or delivered to the Bexar County Elections office:

1103 S. Frio St., Suite 100
San Antonio, TX 78207

Voters who sent in their mail-in application can track the status of their ballot here or by calling the elections office at 210-335-8683.

Election Day voting

According to an election advisory published June 18 by Texas Director of Elections Keith Ingram, polling site workers in Texas are unable to refuse voters showing symptoms of Covid-19 and other illnesses.

“The Texas Election Code does not authorize an election judge to ask a voter about their health history,” the advisory states. “This means that election workers cannot require a voter’s temperature to be checked prior to entering the polling place; nor can an election worker ask a voter whether they have experienced symptoms of an illness in the past 14 days.”

The office of the Texas Secretary of State has published health guidelines for individuals to consider before going to in-person voting locations. These guidelines urge voters to wear masks, bring their own hand sanitizer with them and to socially distance as much as possible when waiting to vote.

Attempting to further address concerns surrounding safe voting locations, many states have adjusted their voting processes to make it safer and more accessible. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation July 27 allowing a statewide six-day extension of early voting.

The state will also allow voters to hand deliver mail-in ballots to their county elections office once they are completed, a method usually allowed only on Election Day. Voters must present a photo ID if delivering their mail-in ballot.

"By extending the early voting period and expanding the period in which mail-in ballots can be hand-delivered, Texans will have greater flexibility to cast their ballots, while at the same time protecting themselves and others from COVID-19," Abbott said.

Because Bexar County is part of the Countywide Polling Place Program (CWPP), there are no Election Day precinct limitations; registered voters choosing to vote in-person may cast their ballots at any county polling location during early voting and on Election Day.

Voter turnout

Bexar County has registered more than 1.7 million voters, a 12% increase compared to the 1,045,357 voters registered in 2016, Jacque Callanen, Bexar County Elections Administrator, told the San Antonio Express-News recently. While these numbers may indicate an uptick in voter turnout, it is not guaranteed.

“My only hope—my prayer—is that the people who are coming to register to vote will come back to vote,” Callanen said.

The potential for large voter turnout poses a challenge for safe and socially distant voting sites. As part of the NBA’s efforts to curb social injustices, they are partnering with local governments in various cities to provide available arenas as safe voting centers.

In San Antonio, the AT&T Center will be used as a voting site for the first time. Owned by the county, the 13,725-square-foot space on the Plaza Level concourse will allow room for socially distant voting during early voting and on Election Day.

"This partnership with the Spurs is emblematic of what our hometown organization represents: community, civic engagement and giving back,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Justin Rodriguez said in a press release Sept. 16. “It’s a true win-win.”

While voting sites like the AT&T Center prepare to handle large crowds, some activist groups continue to point out gaps in voting access. MOVE Texas Civic Fund and the Texas Organizing Project, both progressive groups, are suing Bexar County for providing fewer Election Day polling sites than in previous years.

The lawsuit emphasizes the decrease of the over 300 sites open since 2012 to the now 284 Election Day locations Bexar County plans to open this election. The lawsuit demands the County make 27 additional polling locations available to voters this election.

In response, Callanen said the Bexar County Elections Office is leaving the outcome of the lawsuit to the courts and will keep their focus on conducting the upcoming election.

“Our staff continues to work seven days a week processing applications for mail-in ballots and assisting voters in the election process,” Callanen said in a statement released Oct. 7.

Brigid Cooley is a Heron intern this fall. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, where she also serves as editor-in-chief of The Mesquite newspaper. She can be reached at brigid@saheron.com, @brigidelise1 on Twitter

From left: Catherine Harvey, Connie Ford and Jean Anthony attend a training lab at the Collin County Elections Department.
From left: Catherine Harvey, Connie Ford and Jean Anthony attend a training lab at the Collin County Elections Department. Photo by Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

By Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune

Confused about voting? Voting clerks in parts of Texas are confused, too. All the political chatter about problems with the U.S. Postal Service and voting by mail has some election officials telling their voters to cast absentee ballots by bringing them to the main office instead of dropping them in the mail. They’re also telling voters to bring approved voter identification if they vote that way — just as if they were voting in person — and not to bring anyone else’s ballot, sealed or not.

Anne Morris, a retired Milam County voter, said county officials told her to bring her absentee ballot to the county seat if she wanted to put it in their hands. And they told her that if she wanted to mail her absentee ballot, she should put it in a manila envelope so thieves wouldn’t recognize it and steal it from the mail before it reached the county offices. Milam County Clerk Jodi Morgan says her office is telling voters that dropping mail in a manila envelope is permissible if a voter doesn't want the Post Office to know it's a ballot, but they can also mail it in the envelope provided. And there's a special slot in the county's parking lot where voters can bring their absentee ballots in, with photo ID, if they want to skip the mail altogether.

Here’s an idea: Keep calm and vote on. Don’t let political figures talking about elections freak you out. Instead, ask why they want you to freak out and deal with that. Don’t confine your imagination to the worst crimes and hijinks that might take place in this election. They might not. And the worst thing that can happen is that voters are spooked out of picking the people who represent them; that’s a way to get a government that doesn’t reflect the population.

When political people — and a fair number of pundits, too — are trying to stir voters up, those voters have a choice between anxiety and serenity. And serenity doesn’t mean shutting it all out, plugging their ears and ignoring what’s going on. It’s more about what they do with the information they’re getting.

A lot of that talk is about fraud and corruption — relatively rare election crimes that seem, in this particular election season, to be the only things some politicians want to discuss.

Remember when electronic voting machines and hanging chads were all we were worried about? This year’s conversation makes that seem like the good old days.

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President Donald Trump has been harping on the dangers of voting by mail, even though the country has a long history of such balloting and that it’s popular with older voters, including the president himself. Some of Trump’s Texas choristers have joined in. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said a few months ago that Democrats promoting absentee voting were trying to steal the election. Attorney General Ken Paxton landed a vote-harvesting indictment and arrests in Gregg County this week. The timing was interesting: The charges aren’t about the election that starts here, with early voting, in less than three weeks — they’re about an election two years ago.

Democrats have been unsuccessful in their attempts to allow more Texans to vote by mail, running into both political and legal opposition. The Texas Supreme Court ruled that worries about infection weren’t enough to qualify someone as disabled. But the court also noted that there is nothing on the absentee ballot application that requires someone to list their disability, and no authority at election offices to verify someone’s claim to that exemption for voting by mail. And federal courts tossed out a challenge to provisions that allow voters who are 65 years old or older to vote by mail while denying that privilege to younger voters.

Gov. Greg Abbott made one concession to fears of voting during a pandemic, extending early voting by six days. That spreads voting over a greater number of days and, by extension, increases a chance to vote in a socially distanced way. But this week, Abbott got sued over that extension.

All the talk and litigation works like a fog machine, making voting and elections seem a lot more complicated and confusing and full of traps for unwary voters than they are.

Voters have to calculate the value of their vote, as they listen to government officials and politicians talk about elections and voting the way they talk about other dishonest and unsavory activities.

Why would you want people to distrust an election you thought you might win? Stirring anxieties now betrays a lack of confidence. It sets the table for challenges of the results. It raises everyone’s distrust, too, no matter who wins on Nov. 3.

The real corruption is in the attacks on the system we’ve relied on for more than 200 years.

It’s not as confusing as it might seem. Hear the politicians out. Think about their motives. And get out and vote, with confidence, for the ones you like and against the ones you don’t. Easy.

This article is republished with permission from The Texas Tribune. Read the original post here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Forty-one states have passed laws allowing online voter registration; Texas is not one of them.
Forty-one states have passed laws allowing online voter registration; Texas is not one of them. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune JORDAN VONDERHAAR | FOR THE TEXAS TRIBUNE

By Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff | The Texas Tribune

When Jarrod Stringer updated his driver’s license address in 2014, the Texas Department of Public Safety website asked if he wanted to register to vote. He clicked yes and thought he was registered. That fall, when he went to vote in San Antonio, he was denied. According to the system, he had never registered. It was past the registration deadline, so he couldn’t vote.

That kicked off a six-year legal battle that included two lawsuits for the right for Texans to register to vote online while updating their licenses.

“It’s traumatic when you can’t vote,” Stringer said. “It’s implicitly saying, ‘You don’t have a voice. You can’t participate in change.’”

On Wednesday, Stringer won that “mind-boggling” fight with the state of Texas two weeks before the deadline to register to vote in 2020. Acting on a federal judge’s orders, the state updated its online systems to allow people to add their names to the voter rolls when they update their licenses.

While it’s a limited step — the online option is still only available to people updating their licenses — the change marks the first time Texans have been able to register to vote online, which advocates say could significantly increase turnout both this year and for future elections.

Mimi Marziani, the president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, which brought forward the lawsuits, said the change specifically helps marginalized Texans, who most often move.

“This is absolutely a victory for voting rights for all Texans,” Marziani said. “It’s a particular victory for younger Texans, poorer Texans and Texans of color.”

The National Voter Registration Act, known as the motor voter law, requires states to let residents complete their voter registration applications when they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses. Marziani said she took up the case because Stringer had been denied that right.

Previously, Texans like Stringer who tried to register while using the state’s online license portal were directed to a blank registration form they had to fill out, print and send to their county registrar. The state was forced to change that system after U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled last month that DPS is “legally obligated” to allow voters to simultaneously register to vote with every license renewal or change-of-address application. Garcia had ordered the state to set up a “fully operable” online system by Wednesday.

“The Secretary of State and Texas Department of Public Safety are in compliance with the court’s order,” said Kayleigh Date, a spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, in a statement.

According to Marziani, 1.9 million Texans use the Department of Public Safety’s online portal to update their driving information each year, and 96% of eligible Texans have their driver’s licenses. Texas drivers can renew their licenses online if they renewed them in person the previous time, they are older than 18 but younger than 79, and their licenses expire within two years or have been expired for less than two years, among other restrictions. Texas has more than 16.6 million registered voters.

The coronavirus has brought widespread concern about how people can vote safely in Texas this November, especially as the state’s elected leaders have resisted the idea of broadening who is eligible to vote by mail. Campaigns and advocates from both parties have found that registering new voters has been a challenge without online voting. Forty-one states have passed legislation to allow residents to register to vote online; Texas is not one of them.

Marziani said Wednesday’s move shows the state has the infrastructure in place to expand online voting beyond DPS and renewing driver’s licenses.

“The system they use is the exact same system that they would implement for a broader online voter registration,” Marziani said. “This is a flashing green light for the Legislature to finally bring Texas in line with states across the country and pass online voter registration.”

Date did not answer questions about whether this would be possible or whether the state expected to expand online voter registration.

While some state leaders have staunchly opposed any form of online registration, Garcia’s ruling last month said online registration would actually bolster security and election integrity.

“Uncontested expert testimony shows that a compliant DPS system would very likely lead to great efficiency, less human error, a massive saving in costs, and increased voter registration,” Garcia wrote.

For Stringer, who moved again in August and waited to update his license until Wednesday, the action by the state was a relief.

“The representation of the people in the state of Texas is more fair today than it was two weeks ago,” he said. “Part of what it means to be a citizen is to vote without duress. It’s a huge deal.”

This article is republished with permission from The Texas Tribune. Read the original post here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

The Collin County Elections Department created a mock polling site to prepare poll workers for early voting in June. It included signs to inform voters and employees on how to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 during the voting process.
The Collin County Elections Department created a mock polling site to prepare poll workers for early voting in June. It included signs to inform voters and employees on how to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 during the voting process. Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

By Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune

Here’s one way to think about who wants more people to vote and who doesn’t.

Are they working to fix what they think is wrong, so that more people will vote, or are they working to protect the obstacle course that separates many Texas voters and the ballot box?

Gov. Greg Abbott’s order extending the early voting period is evidence of the former. That move is intended to make it easier to vote early by leaving more time for it, offering voters a chance to get their business done before the deadline rush on Election Day.

Other moves, from people including President Donald Trump and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, look unhelpful at best, or at worst, like tampering.

Texas allows people to vote absentee if they meet one of several conditions: that they’ll be out of their home county during the entire voting period, that they’re eligible to vote but in jail, that they are 65 years old or older, or that they cite a disability or illness that prevents them from voting in person without “injuring the voter’s health.”

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in May that the lack of immunity to COVID-19 doesn’t qualify someone for that last exception, but it also wrote, “We agree, of course, that a voter can take into consideration aspects of his health and his health history that are physical conditions in deciding whether, under the circumstances, to apply to vote by mail because of disability.”

Applications for absentee ballots don’t require voters to identify their disabilities.

The latest Texas battlefield is in the state’s most populous county, where state officials are working to stop Harris County officials from sending unsolicited applications for absentee ballots to all voters.

That court fight is very much alive, but the Texas Supreme Court has put a temporary hold on the mailings. The Harris County Republican Party sued to stop the county clerk from mailing those applications, saying local officials don’t have the legal authority to send the forms to people who haven’t asked for them. The state’s major political parties, on the other hand, regularly mail the applications to voters who haven’t requested them.

That legal challenge — with the argument that it’s confusing to send applications to voters who might not be qualified to vote by mail — proved to be an attractive cause for other Republicans. Paxton has a lawsuit, too, filed on behalf of the Texas secretary of state. Harris County has said it would let voters know, in detail, whether they may qualify for mail ballots, and takes the position that it’s trying to make sure everyone who can do so has an application for it.

While the lawyers argue, voters can always ask for their own absentee voting applications, decide whether they qualify to vote by mail and proceed accordingly. Some won’t go to the trouble, just as some people won’t be troubled to vote.

Voting by mail has devolved into a partisan food fight in this fraught election season. As the combatants have framed this, it’s about whether, on one hand, elections are reasonably free of fraud (it’s rare and illegal), and on the other, whether everyone who wants to vote can do so without running a bureaucratic obstacle course (they can’t).

That’s for the courts to untangle, maybe even before we all vote.

This isn’t a universal fight, even though the president is conducting a national campaign about the dangers of casting a vote with an envelope and a stamp instead of by standing in line and using a machine in public. Most states let all of their eligible voters decide whether to vote in person or by mail. Some mail ballots to every registered voter, whether requested or not.

Texas makes it harder than that, and state officials are fighting to keep it that way. Some argue — with little evidence — that voting by mail is insecure, raising questions about the integrity of the results after the votes are counted.

That’s the argument Trump has adopted — that election fraud is easier when voting by mail is the method. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has called efforts to expand absentee voting this year a “scam by Democrats to steal the election.” In particular, he was referring to a still-pending lawsuit filed by the Texas Democratic Party that says people under age 65 have as much right as their elders to vote by mail.

Texas already has limited absentee voting; the question is whether it’s open to everyone. The law says it’s not, but lawyers are challenging that. That legal tussle hides a simpler argument about making voting easier than it is now.

One of the legal briefs supporting Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins’ proposal is on a grocer’s letterhead, filed on behalf of Charles Butt, chair of H-E-B, by his attorney, Wallace Jefferson, a former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court. Butt likened Harris County’s plan to distribute absentee applications to his company’s response to the pandemic: allowing pickup orders and expanding home deliveries.

“Texas requires an excuse to vote absentee but, as your Court has recently held, does not permit election officials to second-guess a voter’s exercise of that option,” Butt wrote. “Thus, Clerk Hollins’s effort to make absentee ballots widely available trusts voters, protecting those who are vulnerable from unnecessary exposure in this new Covid world in which we’re living.

“It’s always been my impression that the more people who vote, the stronger our democracy will be.”

This article is republished with permission from The Texas Tribune. Read the original post here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Texans voting absentee can also deliver their completed ballots in person at their county elections office instead of mailing them in.
Texans voting absentee can also deliver their completed ballots in person at their county elections office instead of mailing them in. Credit: Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

By Megan Menchaca and Alexa Ura, The Texas Tribune

Texas is gearing up for a monumental election in the middle of a pandemic. And while the state is one of just six that hasn’t opened up mail-in voting to any voter concerned about getting Covid-19 at a polling place, election officials expect a record number of people to vote by mail this year.

Democrats, civil rights groups and individual voters have filed multiple lawsuits seeking to expand voting by mail. But those cases have so far been rejected by the courts—or are still pending. So as of Thursday, most of the state's traditional rules remain in place. Here’s a look at how voting by mail works in Texas.

How do I qualify to vote by mail in Texas?

Registered voters can qualify to vote by mail if they are 65 years or older, cite a disability or an illness, or are confined in jail but still eligible to vote. Voters who will not be in the county where they're registered on Election Day and during the entire early voting period can also request a ballot by mail.

The Texas election code defines disability as a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents a voter from appearing in person without personal assistance or the “likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.” While lack of immunity to the new coronavirus alone doesn’t qualify a voter for a mail-in ballot based on disability, a voter can consider it along with their medical history to decide if they meet the requirement.

How can I submit an application to vote by mail?

To apply for a mail-in ballot, you must deliver a completed application for ballot by mail to your county elections office. Applications can be dropped off in person before the start of early voting, which begins Oct. 13 for the general election, and local election officials must receive mailed applications by Oct. 23.

[ Applications can also be submitted by fax or email, but the county must receive a hard copy within four business days. ]

You can print out your own application, contact your local elections office to receive one or request one from the secretary of state’s office. Contact information for early voting clerks in every county can be found here.

When will I get my ballot?

There is no specific date, but there are rules counties must follow. If your county elections office receives your application to vote by mail more than 45 days before Election Day, the county must send your ballot at least 30 days out from the election. Some counties are aiming to get the ballots out sooner, but they can't send them until the entire county ballot—from the race for president to local water districts—is certified.

If your application is received after the 45-day mark, the county must mail out your ballot within seven days of approving your application.

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What is the deadline to submit my ballot?

For most people voting absentee, Texas counties must receive completed ballots by Election Day. If they’re postmarked by 7 p.m. that day, they’ll be counted if they come in the next day by 5 p.m.

The U.S. Postal Service recommends that Texans ask for mail-in ballots no later than 15 days out from that due date. But state law allows voters to request the ballots up until a week and a half before Election Day, so some may not receive their ballots until it’s too late to mail them back in time.

Texans voting absentee can also deliver their completed ballots in person at their county elections office instead of mailing them in. That’s typically only allowed while polls are open on Election Day, but the state has expanded that option during the pandemic to allow voters to return their ballots in person as soon as they’re completed. Those voters will need to present photo ID when dropping off their ballots.

How will recent changes and delays at the U.S. Postal Service affect mail-in voting?

The state’s deadlines and U.S. Postal Service processes are misaligned and will be newly tested this general election as more Texans are expected to try to vote by mail to avoid the health risks of voting in person. At the same time, a troubled Postal Service is facing cost-cutting measures and ensuing mail delivery delays.

The USPS recently told counties that Texans hoping to have their votes counted should send back their completed ballots at least one week before the state’s deadline for accepting mail-in votes.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told U.S. senators Friday that the Postal Service will prioritize mail-in ballots over regular mail this fall. But to be sure to avoid problems, election administrators and voter advocacy groups are recommending that voters request their mail-in ballots as early as possible and send completed ballots back as soon as possible.

What could cause my ballot to be rejected?

Be careful filling out your ballot. In addition to missing the deadline, a ballot could be rejected for multiple reasons. Some voters forget to sign their ballots. Ballot review boards may find a signature mismatch between the endorsement on a ballot and the one on the voter’s application. Other ballots could be rejected if a voter indicated they would be out of the county during the voting period, but the ballot was mailed from within the county.

If your ballot is rejected for some reason, you should eventually be notified. But generally a voter won’t know if their ballot was rejected until well after the election.

Who can I call to make sure my ballot is received?

You can call your county elections office. You can find a list of county elections offices and their contact information here.

Can I vote in person if I have already requested a mail-in ballot? 

The short answer is yes. The process will be more streamlined if you bring your mail-in ballot with you to your polling place so you can surrender it before casting your vote. If you don’t have your ballot or never received it, you can still cast a provisional ballot. Your vote will be counted once the county determines it never received your mail-in ballot.

This article is republished with permission from The Texas Tribune. Read the original post here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans—and engages with them—about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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