Texas Decides: Your Questions Answered About Voting In The 2020 Elections
The coronavirus pandemic is making the upcoming election a little more complicated than usual. More people are requesting mail-in ballots, many of whom may not be accustomed to voting by mail.
We have been asking for your questions about the voting process as part of our Texas Decides project.
Our first inquiry is from Elizabeth in Austin. She says, "I requested an application for a mail-in ballot weeks ago through the State of Texas site. I have never received it. I am eligible because I am over 65."
Yeah, that is a tough one. That is concerning that you can request an application for a ballot and never get one. You have to request the application or fill out an application and then send that application in before you're actually sent a ballot by your county election official.
Elizabeth does have a couple of options. She could go to the Secretary of State's website and simply download the application form and then fill it out and mail that in. That should get her set up.
You can also go to KUT.org. We've got a link there to that application form. You do have until the 11th day before the election to send in that application for a ballot by mail. And in this case, it's Oct. 23. So Elizabeth does still have some time left. She's got a window there to request her mail-in ballot, although election officials are saying you should do this as soon as possible if you are going to vote by mail; you should request your ballot as soon as possible to make sure that you get it in time and that there's enough time for you to send it back because it does have to be back by Election Day.
Next question is from Carol in Hutto. "I am 81 years old. I received my mail-in ballot for the primary election. Will I automatically get a mail ballot for the November election, or do I have to request a mail-in ballot for each election?"
That is a very good question, Carol, and one we got a lot. The answer is: It depends. So, when you fill out the application for a mail-in ballot, there's a box that you can check that basically says "send me all of the mail-in ballots for this entire year." So, if she requested a primary ballot earlier this year and she checked that box that says "annual application" then she can expect that she'll get a mail-in ballot for the general election. You can also request them for specific elections in that set of checkboxes.
So, if you checked that box earlier this year, then you should expect to get a mail-in ballot. Of course, the November election is probably the last election of the year. So at this point, there's no point in checking the box if you're still going to apply.
So, people have to request this at least as frequently as annually?
This question is from Kathleen in Austin. "I want to know if we will be able to drop off our mail-in ballots in person early and what the locations for possible drive-thru locations may be." She also asks, "What is the timeframe we can drop off our mail-in ballots?"
Speaking specifically about Travis County, because Kathleen is in Austin, the answer is: Yes, you can drop off your mail-in ballot in person. The county set up four places around the city that you can drop off your completed mail-in ballot.
But Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order Oct. 1 saying counties would be limited to only one drop-off site. Voting groups are challenging that order, but in the meantime only the Airport Boulevard location is open. It's the Travis County Tax Office at 5501 Airport Boulevard. You can go through the drive-thru lane where you would normally make a payment.
Of course, if you do drop it off by hand, you'll have to show ID, and you'll have to sign a piece of paper to verify that it is your ballot that you're dropping off. But that option is available this year. And the other thing to know is that you can drop those off starting Oct. 1. So, basically, you have from Oct. 1, all the way up to Election Day that you can drop them off like that.
You're not allowed to drop off a ballot that's not yours, right?
Yeah. It has to be your ballot that you're dropping off. You do have to show ID, and you do have to sign that "this is my ballot."
There's this question from Dave in Austin: "What is the process for a voter who has requested an absentee ballot to instead vote in person at the polls?"
There are a few different answers. Some of them are complicated. They involve going to the early voting clerk's office. But really the easiest way is to take your mail-in ballot that you've gotten in the mail that you haven't filled out, because you've decided that you want to vote in person, with you to vote in person, either during early voting or on Election Day.
And basically, you go up to one of the election judges and say, “I requested a ballot by mail, but I want to vote in person.” So, you'll just surrender that ballot, and then you'll be allowed to cast a regular vote.
If you don't bring your mail-in ballot to the polls with you to vote but you have requested one, you are able to vote provisionally. So that means that you'll have to go through some extra steps to make sure that your vote is counted; you'll have to take your mail-in ballot to the election office at some point before Election Day.
So, if you requested a mail-in ballot and you want to vote in person, just bring it with you to vote in person and surrender it there.
And the way things are this year, people are being encouraged to vote early, whether by mail or in person.
Yes. Nobody wants to stand in line for hours and hours, so voting early is highly recommended. The early voting period has been extended almost a full extra week. It begins on Oct. 13.
How can people check to see if their county clerk got their mail-in ballot request?
Travis County has a web page that allows you to verify whether you're registered, and they have a button on there this year. It says “BBM status.” That is ballot-by-mail status. You give them your name and either your voter ID number or your date of birth.
It just simply says, "Do I have a ballot-by-mail application on file?" And it will say "yes" or "no." "Has my ballot been mailed to me?" Again: yes or no. And if the answer's yes, it gives you the date that it was mailed. And then finally, "Has my ballot been received by Travis County, yes or no?"
Oct. 5 was the last day for people to register to vote. But is there a registration deadline to ask for a mail-in ballot from the state?
The deadline is Friday, Oct. 23. That's when your request needs to be postmarked.
But, of course remember, this is one of those years when just exponentially more people are going to be doing mail-in ballots. And there are already concerns about how that increase of volume is going to be handled by local election officials. So, if you know you want to do a mail-in ballot, please don't wait until the 23rd. Do it today or tomorrow and try to get this done quickly.
Some people are asking: “When will I get my ballot?”
The answer should be: just a few days after it's been mailed, depending on, of course, how far away you are from Travis County. But, again, a good way to set your mind at ease is to go to the Travis County Clerk's Office website, look for your ballot-by-mail status and see when it was mailed.
Where can people vote in person?
Here in Texas, during early voting, you can vote at any official polling location as long as you're within your home county. So, if you live in Travis, you've got to vote in Travis, but you can vote anywhere that you see a polling location in Travis County.
A lot of places that were traditionally polling locations — grocery stores, schools, some nursing homes or community centers — are not polling locations this time around because of the pandemic.
But Travis, Williamson and Hays counties have put out their big updated list of where their polling locations are going to be. Some of them are places that you might not have thought of before. The best thing to do is go to your home counties election page and look up where they have these new polling locations this year.