Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir Answers Your Questions About Voting

Oct 19, 2018

Early voting is over and Election Day is just around the corner. Despite a record number of people in Travis County registering to vote by the Oct. 9 deadline, not everyone will actually go to the polls. 

People don't vote for a variety reasons – maybe they're confused about the process or which ID to bring, or they're concerned about the security of voting machines. KUT is trying to help remove as many barriers to voting as possible.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir joined KUT's Jennifer Stayton to answer your questions about voting. 

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What is the best online resource where can people go to find out information about voting in Travis County?

The first place to go is probably the County Clerk's website. There is also VoteTravis.org. The League of Women Voters has a wonderful website, too.

(Here's the site for Hays County and Williamson County.)

Where can I find out what is going to be on my ballot? Is there a way to find out the ballot that I will see when I go to the polls?

You don't want to have to spend all that time in the booth trying to read those propositions for the first time and figure out what you want to do with it. The League of Women Voters has an excellent guide on it. We have sample ballots once again on the Travis County clerk's website.

I just moved in February and I don't know where to vote. I'm planning to vote early. So in Travis County what are the rules about where you can vote early?

You can vote anywhere that's convenient for you. So do check the list on any of these websites. Early voting, there are 23 locations that you can choose from. You know lots of different places around Travis County, so just double check to see which one suits you best. It's not related at all to your home or your address, you can literally vote anywhere during early voting and on Election Day. We will have the ballot that fits your neighborhood, your precinct at any one of those early voting locations.

(In Hayes County, early voters can go to any polling location but on Election Day they need to go to one in their precinct. In Williamson County, voters can go to any location during early voting and Election Day.)

What identification do I need to have with me when I go to vote?

If you have a driver's license you're fine. You might want to go look at either the Secretary of State's website or Travis County Clerk website to see exactly what those items are if you don't have a driver's license. Other items you can take are a passport, other forms of picture identification. But it's a little complicated so please go look. If you don't have a picture identification there are still other options for you, so don't don't give up don't think that because you don't have driver's license you can't vote. You absolutely can as long as you're properly registered.

What happens if somebody is registered to vote and they get to the polls, but they don't have one of those acceptable forms of ID?

We have procedures in place at all the locations to handle this issue. You will be offered a provisional ballot or you can certainly ask for a provisional ballot. This protects your right to vote. You get the chance to vote and then a few days after the election, you will be asked to help "cure" that ballot to help prove up whatever the problem was maybe you found your driver's license maybe you can bring additional information to prove that you're the person and that you live at this address. There are lots and lots of options, but getting a provisional ballot means that you have to come back and help us figure out the problem. So they're not automatically counted but we want to count every single one of those.

Do you have to bring your voter registration card that you get in the mail when you vote in addition to the ID?

They're perfect for helping people make sure that they really do have the right person, the right spelling the right address for use an individual. So they're always helpful. But no, you do not have to bring your voter registration card in order to vote. The main thing you need is a photo ID.

This is NOT what current voting machines look like.
Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

What should we do if we checked beforehand that we are registered to vote. And there is a way to do that online. You can go confirm your register to vote, but then you get to the polling place and they say you're not showing you on the list of registered voters.

There are a couple of reasons why your name might go missing from the voter registration roll: One of them is if you signed up through DPS, there might be a lag in sending the information back to the county (that would be through the motor voter law). Also, if you were one of those people who registered at the very last minute, there might be a problem getting the data entry completed in time for the start of early voting.

Nevertheless, in all of those situations you have options. You should've been given a receipt when you registered to vote, especially if you were one of those folks that did it at the last minute. Bring your receipt that's your insurance right there. If you don't have that, you can always vote a provisional ballot.

Who do you ask at the polling place for a provisional ballot?

You can ask any of the folks at the polling place what are your options to be able to vote. And then specifically can I have a provisional ballot. If it looks like you're not going to be able to vote traditional way.

I recently moved and I changed my voter registration, but I haven't had time to change my driver's license over to my new address. How is this going to affect me when I get to the poll and I'm showing up with the voter registration list says I live at point A but my driver's license says I live at point B?

If your voter registration is already updated with your new address, good for you. You did the right thing and that's all you need. Don't worry that the address doesn't match your driver's license. You just need to make sure your name matches the driver's license and the voter registration card. Even though the driver's license is not correct it's perfectly fine. You won't have to worry about that part of it as long as you're on the voter registration roll.

How long is it going to take when I go to vote?

Well, it's going to be a few minutes because there's a long ballot this time. There's the federal part at the top of the ballot, then there's the county part. And then we also have the local part of the ballot, so you want to make sure you go through all three parts go to the very end. At the end of the ballot you're going to see a summary page that tells you everything you have selected and that gives you the opportunity to go back and change your mind or fill in something you skipped over. Don't press the red "cast ballot" button until you're absolutely sure that ballot is fine. When you see the waving red flag, you know you have voted.

Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Is there a way to find out how long the wait might be at different polling places?

Yes, absolutely. We have what's called red yellow green and what it means is that you can use it on your phone app or on your laptop. Once again our office Travis County Clerk, and what you do is you pull up that location and if it has a red traffic signal that means the line is long and you're probably not going to want to go there. If you pull it up and it has a yellow that means it has a short line. If it's green that means there's virtually no line at all and you should travel right away to that polling place because here's your perfect opportunity.

During early voting, lots of locations have no lines at all and they're open and ready for you. Please take advantage of that. Don't just assume you're going to be in a line. It doesn't have to be that way.

(Here's the list of polling places in Travis County. An interactive map showing wait times at each location will be available during early voting and on Election Day.)

I want to be able to look on my phone in the voting booth to remember about candidates or issues, and I read online that I can. But I got to the polling place one time, and there was a big sign of a cellphone with a red circle and line through it. No phones. What is the actual law about what you can take into the polling place and then into the voting booth with you?

You cannot take a cellphone or a camera or any kind of recording device or electronic device into the polling place and that's to protect your neighbors and your fellow voters from feeling like they're being recorded or supervised in any kind of way observed in any way. So put them in your pocket turn, them off, put them in your purse don't pull them out while you're in the polling place. You can look at them while you're in line. They're a great great way to keep yourself entertained while you're waiting. It sounds a little old fashioned, but you can bring paper notes –candidate flyers, other physical notes – into the polling place with you, so you don't have to rely on the phone. You wouldn't want to disturb the safe haven of the polling place.

Talk a little bit about the actual physical space where someone goes into vote. It's not exactly sort of the old-fashioned booth with the curtain. What will people see and experience when they're actually voting and casting their ballot?

It should be organized pretty much the same no matter where you go or whether it's during early voting or on Election Day. You're going to find it set up in steps 1 to 3. The first person is going to ask to see your identification and they're going to check to see if you're on the voter registration roll. Then you're going to move to step two to the person sitting next to them at a table and that person is going to verify which address applies to your area so they can get to the right ballot. You're also going to sign in at step two.

Then at step three, you're going to get an access code for the machine that you're going to use to vote and that access code tells you your particular ballot. So you walk over to the voting booth. It doesn't have a curtain around it anymore. Those are gone. But we did have sides to protect your privacy. Enter that access code and hit the enter button and then you'll be ready to go. The first thing you will see on your ballot is instructions. You might want to take a look at those before you proceed any further. Use the arrow buttons to navigate forward or backward in your pages.

What happens if I don't cast a vote for every line? So I skipped some races or skipped some of the propositions, and I leave some of them blank. Will my vote still count?

Lots of voters do this. You don't have to. It's not like a test where you have to get 100 percent. You are absolutely entitled to skip whatever you want. As a matter of fact, one of the good pieces of advice is if you haven't studied a particular candidate or a particular issue you may want to admit it for fear of giving an answer that doesn't match what you would really vote for or against considering your considered opinion. So don't worry about it . Skip whatever you want. You'll have the opportunity at the summary screen to double check to make sure you didn't miss it inadvertently.

Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Is one-party straight-ticket voting still allowed in Texas?

This is the last time we will be able to use straight-party voting. So if you like that option, here's your last chance. You will see that all of your candidates – not local – in the upper part of the ballot received to vote according to your intention. Just double check it on your summary screen. Next time we vote, we will not have straight-party voting. Texas has basically gone by the wayside of a lot of states that have discontinued straight party voting.

What if I'm in line when the polls close, so I haven't even gotten to check in but at 7 o'clock it's supposed to close. Can I still vote?

Yes, you can. If you find yourself in line at say one minute before 7, then you will absolutely get to vote no matter how long it takes. But you might want to keep this in mind. If you dash over to the grocery store and hop in a line on election night, then all of the voting that has taken place during that day – none of that can be tallied. We can't leave. We can't remove the ballot box until everybody's voted. We are planning for the election to be concluded at 7 o'clock, so we can start counting ballots, because voters want to know what those results are. But if you're in a three-hour line at a grocery store at 7 o'clock, we don't even begin with the process of tallying the votes until 10 at night. So, please don't wait until the last minute.

Is it too late to get an absentee ballot? What process do I go through if I'm not going to be here? I want an absentee ballot, I'm going to be out of town, whatever the case may be.

Yes, you still have time to apply for an absentee ballot by mail. In Texas, you have to qualify for it. You have to be over 65, out of town for the entire early voting and Election Day period, or disabled. If you call the office of the county clerk, you can order an absentee ballot by telephone. You can go online and request an absentee ballot by mail, and you need to do all of that by the first Friday of early voting, Oct. 26.

Can you request and receive absentee ballots via e-mail? Does it have to be a phone call or an online request and then through the mail?

You can request an e-mail ballot, but mostly what's used for military and overseas stationed folks. It's intended to make a shortcut, so that they can quickly get their ballot. There's no online voting. All they do is print out that ballot, hand mark it, put it in an envelope and mail it back. So I wouldn't want people to think that there's some sort of electronic option. That's not going to happen for a while. We're not going to see voting on our phones or anything electronic voting until we figure out how to make the Internet more secure.

How are absentee ballots counted? Are they counted on Election Day or later?

We start counting those on Election Day, shortly before the polls close at 7 p.m. so that we can be all prepared to give results right after 7. Now here's one of things I want to remind voters: Remember that when you put your ballot in your envelope and seal it, you have to sign across the envelope flap on the back. One of the number one reasons why voters get disqualified from voting by mail is because they forget to sign the outside of their envelope. Otherwise, yes, all of those absentee ballots are counted.

If I'm registered as an independent, can I vote for a mixture of candidates or only independent candidates?

Right now, you don't have to stick to any kind of party. As a matter of fact, in Texas there's no way for you to register as a Democrat, Republican or independent. The way you get an assignation to a party, is if you go and participate in one of the primaries – Republican or Democrat – or the caucus for the Libertarians or Greens. That's the only distinction that will ever be made in your voting history.

Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Now when you get to a November ballot it's all free choice. You can vote for whoever you want. You can switch between parties. That is entirely up to you. And, of course, as we said before you can skip anything you're not completely sure about. But if you're using the straight party option that's the only place where it's all going to be preset for you.

How do you write in someone whose name does not appear on the ballot?

If you click on the write-in line it will pull up an alphabet key for you so that you can type in the name of your candidate. However only the names of certified candidates will be counted. So if you write in Donald Duck that's not going to count. You're going to have to only use the names that are certified, and those can be found listed in your voting booths.

What is the usual, average voter turnout like in Travis County?

One of the things that we can say about this election before it's even happened is this is not going to be a normal election. This will be a very high turnout for a midterm. We think that we could see presidential level turnout for both early voting and Election Day. So that's the other reason why we encouraging people to vote early. Don't wait till the last minute.