Written by Rachel Hill, Community Outreach and Engagement Manager (North)
I’ve only voted on election day once in my life — and that’s a conscious choice. Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly something special about the buzz of energy while waiting in line to cast a ballot the first Tuesday of November. But I quickly realized that I could get that same buzz voting early, getting in and out of the polling location in about 20 minutes without having to dodge the (admittedly nice) folks passing out flyers and the awkward small talk of strangers in line trying to (not so subtly) figure out who I’m voting for.
I’m a huge advocate of early voting always, but especially now, when social distancing has become a way of life and I’m trying to get in and out of most places as quickly and painlessly as possible. Lucky for me and other early voting enthusiasts, Texas has expanded the early voting period to two weeks, from October 13 – October 30. Below, I walk through what you need to know when early voting and where to start.
One of the (many) great things about early voting is that you can vote at any early voting polling location in your county — you’re not limited to your precinct number like you may be on election day, depending on your county. A few days before election day the Texas Secretary of State will post early voting polling places and hours on this website. You can use your Texas Drivers License number, or your name, county and date of birth to look up polling information tailored to you. I’m a little scatterbrained these days, so I always put a reminder in my calendar to do this the day before early voting starts — this year it’s October 12th.
Once you know your polling place and what hours they’re open you can start making your plan to vote early. Most polling locations are open 7 days a week throughout the day, so you can go according to your schedule. I often plan to vote when I know I’m going to be out anyway running errands so that I don’t feel like I’m making an extra trip. Once you’ve picked a day to go vote, again, put it in your calendar if it will help you remember.
Part of my voting plan also means building in time to look up a sample ballot and research any candidates I’m not sure about. You can typically find a sample ballot on your county’s website — I often just google Dallas County Sample Ballot. You may need to know your precinct, which you can find on the same Texas Secretary of State site where you find polling places and hours. Even if you know who you’re voting for at the top of the ticket, looking up a sample ballot helps prepare you for the state and local races that directly impact so much of our daily lives.
The mechanics of early voting work the same as election day — just without the crowds. You’ll want to bring an approved form of photo ID like a driver’s license or passport. If you don’t have one of the 7 forms of approved photo IDs there are supporting forms of ID that you can bring that will still allow you to vote (with some added paperwork).
You can bring handwritten notes into the voting booth, and I often do for those tricky local races that I may have just recently looked up.
In these times, make sure to also bring a mask and the PPE you feel comfortable with. Most polling places will have hand sanitizer on site, but it never hurts to bring your own.
Finally, I like to refer to the ACLU’s Know Your Voting Rights list right before I go out to vote, just in case. I’ve never had anything happen, but I like to be prepared.
And that’s it! Once you’ve voted early, it’s honestly hard to go back to election day (I never did). For those of us who are planning to cast an in-person ballot, early voting allows for a little more control in the process, voting on your timetable and ensuring a little more social distance. It also doesn’t hurt as a reminder to your friends and family to go out and vote while they still can, something that can’t always be said for election day.
However you choose to vote, by mail in ballot, voting early or on election day, it’s more important now than ever. Choose the process that best fits your situation and make your voice heard!