Know Your Rights As A Voter In Texas
Early voting in the 2020 Texas primaries runs from Feb. 18 until Feb. 28, and before you head to the polls, make sure you know your rights as a voter.
As a voter at a polling place, you have the right to:
- a ballot with written instructions on how to cast a ballot
- ask the polling place official for instructions on how to cast a ballot
- cast your vote in secret and free from intimidation
- receive up to two more ballots if you make a mistake while marking the ballot
- bring an interpreter to assist you if you do not understand the English language
- receive help casting your ballot if you cannot write, see the ballot or understand the language in which it is written.
You should bring one of these IDs to the polling place, but you can still vote if you don't have an ID.
Fill out an affidavit saying you had a “reasonable impediment” to getting an ID, including "lack of transportation, disability or illness, lack of birth certificate or other documents needed to obtain acceptable photo ID, work schedule, family responsibilities, lost or stolen ID, or acceptable form of photo ID applied for but not received," according to the Texas Secretary of State.
You must also have one of the following documents with your address on it:
- copy or original of a government document that shows your name and address, including your voter registration certificate
- copy of or original current utility bill
- copy of or original bank statement
- copy of or original government check
- copy of or original paycheck
- copy of or original of (a) a certified domestic (from a U.S. state or territory) birth certificate or (b) a document confirming birth admissible in a court of law which establishes your identity (which may include a foreign birth document)
You are still allowed to vote, even if the address on your ID does not match the one on the voter rolls. You may have to fill out a form, however.
Slightly Different Names
If the name on your ID and the one listed on the voter roll does not match, the poll worker can determine whether they are “substantially similar.” That includes if you have a different initial, middle or former name listed on one of those documents. Customary variations are also acceptable — such as Mike/Michael. Slightly different spellings — Marc/Mark, Nanci/Nancy — are considered substantially similar.
“In comparing the names," guidance from the Texas Secretary of State says, "the election official should also compare the address, date of birth, and photograph to assist in making a determination and assist in verifying the voter’s identity.”
You may have to complete a "substantially similar name" affidavit before you vote.
If there are any problems establishing your identity — for example if you have no ID with you and none of the listed items that would allow you to sign a reasonable impediment form — you can always ask for a provisional ballot. This lets you cast a ballot and then gives you six days to verify your identity or to clear up any other problems with your local elections administrator.
If you move to a new county between the voter registration deadline and Election Day, you may be able to cast what’s called a “limited ballot.”
It allows you to vote on statewide races and any district races that your old and new counties of residence have in common.
Here are the criteria:
- The person seeking a limited ballot would be eligible to vote in the former county of residence on Election Day if still residing there;
- The person seeking a limited ballot is registered to vote in the former county of residence at the time the person (1) offers to vote in the new county of residence or (2) applies for registration in the new county; and
- The person’s voter registration is not effective in the new county of residence on or before Election Day.
Time Off Work To Vote
Your employer is required to give you paid time off to vote on Election Day, with some exceptions. It also can’t threaten or penalize you for taking time off to vote, by docking your pay or other benefits.
The exception: if there are two consecutive hours outside of your scheduled work time when the polls are open. So if you work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., you still have two hours to vote at the end of the day before polls close, so you’re not eligible for paid time off to vote.
Protection From Retaliation
This one’s simple: You have the right to not be retaliated against because of whom you vote for.
It’s a felony to threaten or harm someone for how they voted — or for their refusal to tell you how they voted.
It’s also a felony for employers to threaten or penalize employees for how they vote or their refusal to say how they voted.
Voter Privilege From Arrest
Here’s the last — and maybe most surprising — right you have as a voter: privilege from arrest (kind of).
This part of the Texas Election Code mirrors a provision in the Texas Constitution — and some other state constitutions.
According to this 1977 analysis of the Texas Constitution: “Its purpose was to protect against abuses of the arresting power by authorities who might have sought to influence elections.”
It basically prevents the police from waiting at polling places to arrest people with some outstanding warrants — except in cases of treason (!), felonies or "breach of the peace."
"'Breach of the peace' would cover most crimes other than felonies," the 1977 analysis continues. "So the privilege would seem to extend primarily to arrests in civil suits - once a fairly common practice but almost unheard of now."
But the Texas Secretary of State’s office gives this example:
“If … a voter has an arrest warrant out for unpaid speeding tickets and is afraid to go to the county courthouse for fear that he/she might be arrested, the voter is assured under this provision of the law that he/she cannot be arrested while going to cast a ballot or returning from casting one (with those three notable exceptions – treason, felony, breach of peace).”
If you think any of your rights have been violated, you can call the nonpartisan Election Protection hotline:
- 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) for English
- 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682) for Spanish
- 888-API-VOTE (888-273-8683) for Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Urdu, Hindi, and Bengali
Correction: An earlier version of this article attributed a quote about voter privilege from arrest to the Texas State Law Library. However, the quote comes from a 1977 analysis of the Texas Constitution by George D. Braden.