Travis County election officials say they expect to receive 100,000 ballots by mail for the 2020 general election – about four times the usual number for an election like this. Here's how to make sure your ballot makes it through the process.
Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir is encouraging thoroughness and timeliness when voting by mail. Timeliness because, she says. ballots mailed too close to Election Day might not make it in time to be counted. Thoroughness because she admits the system in place to notify voters if a problem crops up is not "the best."
Here are some of the reminders DeBeauvoir has for Travis County residents voting by mail in the 2020 general election:
All the ballots by mail requested so far have been mailed out. DeBeauvoir says her office is now working on what she calls "incoming."
"Whatever comes in on a particular day, we turn around and get back out to the voter within 48 hours," she says.
Voters can check the status of their applications – or the ballot itself – at votetravis.com by scrolling down to the "voter lookup" section, submitting the requested information and then clicking on the BBM status button. Applications to receive a ballot by mail must be received by Oct. 23.
DeBeauvoir says voters are notified if there is a problem with their ballot. But she says "it's not very timely because by the time we find out what's wrong and then send a note out to the voter, it has to still travel through the mail to get to them."
She encourages voters to make sure they follow all the proper procedures when filling out and sending back a ballot by mail.
DeBeauvoir says people who request a ballot by mail but decide instead to vote in person can do that – provided they follow a particular process. If people got their ballot in the mail but want to vote in person, she says they should go to an early voting or Election Day polling place, "surrender your ballot to the election judge and tell the judge that you want to participate in person. They will cancel the ballot that you bring in and you'll be set up to start over." If they did not receive a ballot, DeBeauvoir says voters can go to a polling location and vote with a provisional ballot.
Listen to the interview below with DeBeauvoir or read the transcript for more information about voting by mail in Travis County this fall.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.
Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir: Everybody is in the process of getting their ballots. The ones that that we had in a batch here waiting for the certified ballot – waiting for action – have all gone out the door and that's about 73,000 ballots. So what we're working on now is incoming. Whatever comes in on a particular day, we turn around and get back out to the voter within 48 hours.
We're going to see more than 100,000 ballots by mail for this election. A normal amount would have been about 27,000. We think we've managed to learn some lessons and figure out how to roll with that kind of a tsunami. It's a lot of people on hand. And processing by mail ballots is a very tedious process because you have to double-check everything. The voter registration rolls, the voter name and address and signatures have to be compared. So there's quite a bit of work to process a by-mail ballot.
What does Texas law say about when you can process those by mail ballots? Can you process them as you receive them back in the office, or do you have to wait until Election Day on Nov. 3 to begin processing and then tabulating those?
We can do all the processing in advance. Several days before the election we will make sure that all of our ballots have been thoroughly processed. Everybody's cleared that's supposed to get a ballot. They have to be stacked and flattened so creases won't jam up in the scanners.
But we do not do any tallying until Election Day. So with an 11-hour through-put, we think we can get all of our by-mail ballots tallied in one day. But we will start first thing on election morning and keep right on going until we're finished. Election night we’re going to have also some by-mail ballots that are going to be hand delivered and those we're going to try to include in our election night reporting.
What's the best way for people to check on the status of their vote-by-mail progress – whether they've already applied and they're waiting for the ballot or they've sent it in? What's the best way for people to keep track of that?
We have a new application for voters, so that they can track their own ballot. If you'll go to votetravis.com and click on the mail-ballot status button, it will ask for your name and birth date so you can enter the information. And then what will come back up for the voter is the date that their application was received here and when we mailed out the ballot to them. And so if it's not on that date, then you know that there's probably some sort of issue that needs to be resolved. And again, you'll be prompted on that screen to follow how to help you resolve it. It could be a voter registration issue. It could be an election issue.
Either way, we do want you to take a look and be confident that you've taken all the steps and that there's no mistakes in the process. The best way to double-check your ballot is votetravis.com – the mail-ballot status button.
Everybody should really pay attention. If you're going to put it into the mail, put it into the mail the next to the last week before Election Day. Don't wait till that last week; if you do, there is a chance it won't get to us in time.
Do voters get actively notified if there's a problem? So, for example, if their signature can't be matched up or verified, is there any kind of notification that goes out to them, or is it up to voters to check in?
There is a notification procedure, but it's not very timely. By the time we find out what's wrong and then send a note out to the voter, it has to still travel through the mail to get to them. So it's not the best system in Texas. For this time around, make sure that you've used all the tools you can and that you make sure everything is all correctly done.
If someone requests a ballot by mail and they receive that ballot, but then for whatever reason, they decide that they're actually going to vote in person instead – is that allowed? And if it is, what should that person do if they're going to vote in person rather than vote by mail?
Here's what you do: If you've changed your mind, then what you do is you take your ballot and go to any of the early voting locations or the Election Day location. When you get to the polling place, surrender your ballot to the election judge and tell the judge that you want to participate in person. They will cancel the ballot that you bring in and you'll be set up to start over. You'll have to show ID and sign in to get a fresh ballot and then you'll be voting a regular ballot just like everybody else in person.
Now, we do have another option for voters. If you don't have your ballot – maybe it never came in the mail or perhaps it got lost – go ahead and go to an early voting or an Election Day polling place. Tell the judge there that you're on the ballot-by-mail list and you wish to be taken off. You will be allowed under those circumstances to vote a provisional ballot. And then as long as your other by mail ballot doesn't get voted and come in, your provisional ballot at the polling place will count.
What are you and your office planning for the period after Election Day? Do you have any sense of how long it may take to do all the tallying to get through all the races?
We always see by-mail ballots arrive after election night. Military and overseas are often considered late ballots, and they will qualify. If a ballot comes from the post office with a one-day delay and the postmark of Election Day, we're going to count those. Those are legal ballots. So it just kind of depends. I think most of what we're going to try to count is going to be counted by the wee hours of the morning on election night. Then we'll see this smaller group continue to arrive for the next six days.
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