It might feel like this election season, much like the coronavirus, began roughly 42 years ago, but traditionally the real beginning of the presidential election season is the first week of September—i.e., now. That means there are two things you need to do right away: Make sure you are registered to vote, and decide if you are going to vote by mail.
Because of COVID-19, unprecedented numbers of Americans are considering voting by mail. If you are reading this post, there’s a good chance you might be, too. If you wish to vote by mail in November 2020, you should print or request your application now, fill it out as soon as you have it, and mail it to your election clerk ASAP.
Who can vote by mail in Texas?
Let’s dig into the logistics of voting by mail. If you live in 44 of the other 49 states, or the District of Columbia, you have the unrestricted right to request an absentee ballot, and you may even be sent a mail-in ballot automatically if you are a registered voter. Here in Texas, however, you must jump through some additional hoops. Not everyone is qualified to vote by mail in Texas. To request an absentee ballot by mail, you must otherwise be eligible to vote and fall into at least one of the following categories:
- 65 years of age or older;
- out of the country on election day and the early voting period; or
- incarcerated but not convicted (as a presently incarcerated convict is not eligible to vote).
Regarding eligibility due to disability, the Texas Supreme Court has said fear of catching a disease (i.e., COVID-19) does not qualify as a disability. The court has also stated that neither an election clerk nor the state is authorized to ask a voter citing disability on an absentee ballot application what that disability is; the election clerk must take the voter at their word when they mark disability on their absentee ballot application. In fact, writing in a specific disability might invalidate your request.
How can I receive a mail-in ballot in in Texas?
If you are eligible to vote by mail, follow these steps to receive your ballot.
- Print a ballot-by-mail application at texas.gov/elections/voter/reqabbm.shtml, or order an application online from the Texas Secretary of State or a third-party site such as vote.org.
- Complete the application. Again, do not write in a specific disability if that is your qualifying reason to receive an absentee ballot.
- Sign and date the application. Be sure to sign your absentee ballot application in the exact same way you will sign your actual absentee ballot. The most common reason absentee ballots are rejected is because the signature on the ballot and the signature on the ballot application do not match.
- After you complete your ballot application, affix postage to the application (if it is in postcard form), or place the application inside a stamped envelope.
- Mail the application to your county’s election administrator. You can find the mailing address for your county’s election official here. Do NOT mail your completed application back to the Secretary of State’s office. The Secretary of State’s office will throw it away.
- Finally, because your county election official is not required to inform you if your application is rejected, you should call your county election office about two weeks after you send in your application to verify you have been placed on the absentee ballot list, assuming you haven’t already received your ballot in the mail.
County election clerks must send mail-in-ballots to voters already on the absentee ballot list at least 30 days prior to the election. This means any eligible voter whose valid application has been received by September 19 (45 days prior to the election) will receive a mail-in ballot by October 4. You can still return an application for ballot by mail after September 19, but the election clerk is not required to send you a mail-in-ballot until seven days after your application has been received, processed, and found to be valid. The closer to the election you send in your application, the more likely you will not receive your absentee ballot before election day. That is especially true this year with expected increases in the number of applications and potential postal delays.
ATPE has created a graphic you can use or share on social media to help folks easily understand who is eligible to vote by mail in Texas and how to apply for a ballot by mail.
This article originally appeared in ATPE’s advocacy blog, TeachtheVote.org, at teachthevote.org/news/2020/09/04/so-youre-thinking-about-voting-by-mail.