Absentee and mail-in ballots in Texas can be confusing at the best of times. Add a global pandemic, postal service delays, and a whiplash-inducing tug of war in the courts, and the thought of casting a vote by mail has become an overwhelming experience for many.
We’ll help you cut through the noise with the 3 things you need to know about voting by mail so you can determine if it’s right for you.
So far, any potential changes to the voting by mail process have only looked to expand eligibility. The standard qualifications for mail-in ballots are not up for debate right now, and if you fall under one of these categories, you’re safe to request a mail-in ballot, regardless of the court cases in the news. If you fall under one of these qualifications, you are eligible for a mail-in or absentee ballot.
What qualifies as a disability?
The Texas election code defines disability as a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents a voter from appearing in person without personal assistance or the “likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.” The Texas Supreme Court ruled in May that voters should take into account their medical history (including conditions that increase risk of contracting COVID-19) as part of their determination to cite disability as the reason for requesting a mail-in ballot.
The bottom line here is that you cannot not solely use fear of contracting COVID-19 as a reason to request a mail-in ballot. You can, however, request a mail-in ballot marked as “disabled” if you have medical factors that increase your risk of contracting COVID-19, such as diabetes, immunocompromisation, obesity or other risk factors (click here for the CDC’s full list of underlying medical conditions that increase risk of severe illness from COVID19).
The Texas Supreme Court was clear in its decision that it’s up to the individual voter to decide whether or not they qualify under this definition. You do not have to disclose your reasons for marking “disabled” as your reason for requesting a ballot.
To receive your mail-in ballot, you must send in an application for the ballot to your county elections office. You can print out your own application, contact your local elections office to receive one or request one from the secretary of state’s office.
You can request a ballot at any time and we recommend you do so sooner rather than later to account for any postal delays. The U.S. Postal Service recommends that you ask for your mail-in ballot no later than 15 days out from the deadline, which adds up to October 19 this year.
If you’re sending in your application by mail, it must be received by October 23. If you’re dropping it off in person at your county elections office, you’ll have to have it in by October 13.
Your ballot needs to be in the hands of your county elections office either by mail or by hand on Election Day, November 3. If it’s postmarked by 7 p.m. that day, it’ll be counted as long as it comes in on November 4 by 5 p.m.
You can turn your ballot in by mail or in person as soon as you’ve finished filling it out (don’t forget the state and local races!). The USPS recommends that you send in your ballot at least a week ahead of the deadline to account for any delays, which will be October 27 this year. You can also return your completed ballot in person, where you’ll need to present a photo ID when dropping it off. As of October 2, if returning the ballot in person, it must be delivered to a single early voting clerk’s office location in each county per a proclamation by Governor Abbott. Contact your county’s election office to ask where that one location will be.
Once you’ve sent it in you can always call your local county elections office to see if they have your ballot. And most importantly, don’t forget to sign your ballot before you turn it in!
If you qualify, voting by mail can be one of the most convenient and safe ways to exercise your right to vote. If you have additional questions, you can always call your county elections office to determine if it’s the right voting method for you — that’s part of what they’re there for. Whatever voting method you determine is right for you, make sure you’re informed, have a plan, and queer the vote this November.