The Skinny on Voting in the Big State of Texas
The primaries in Texas may be over, but the election cycle has just begun. To help you rock the vote in Texas, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide that should answer your most burning questions about the polling process, and get you prepared for the next big election.
Am I even eligible to vote?
Let’s find out! To vote in Texas, you must be:
- A United States citizen;
- A resident of the Texas county you’re applying to vote in;
- At least 18 years old on Election Day;
- Free of felony charges, or, if you’ve been convicted of a felony, you must have fully completed your sentence, including any term of incarceration, parole, or probation as ordered by the court; or been pardoned; and
- Not declared mentally incapacitated by a court of law.
If this sounds like you, you are definitely eligible to vote. Congratulations! If not, better luck next time, pal.
How do I register?
The process is pretty simple, but it does involve using snail mail. I know, I know. But remember—it’s so worth it! All you need to do is fill out a Voter Registration Application online, print it, and then mail it to the Voter Registrar in your county of residence. If you don’t know the address for your local County Voter Registrar, don’t panic—it can be found at the top of your completed application once you’ve submitted all your information through the online form.
If you’d prefer not to fill the application out online, you can request to have a postage-paid copy sent directly to you. You can also pick up a Voter Registration Application at most post offices, libraries, high schools, Texas Department of Public Safety offices, and Texas Health and Human Services Commission offices throughout the state. It’s even possible to register when you apply for or renew your Texas driver’s license.
In order to register, you’ll need a few pieces of information. All Texans who register to vote should provide:
- A Texas driver’s license number;
- A personal identification number as issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS); or
- The last four digits of their social security number.
If you don’t have any of these pieces of information, you can still register to vote, but you’ll need another form of identification when you mail in your ballot or show up to the polls, such as a:
- Texas Election Identification Certificate issued by DPS;
- Texas concealed handgun license issued by DPS;
- United States military identification card containing the person’s photograph;
- United States citizenship certificate containing the person’s photograph; or
- United States passport.
Keep in mind that you must be at least 17 years and 10 months of age on the date you apply for registration. Make sure your application is received by the County Voter Registrar’s office or postmarked 30 days before the election if you plan to vote that cycle. Once your application is processed, you’ll receive a voter registration certificate in the mail. Do a little dance, then sign it, fold it and keep it in your wallet to take to the polls!
What if I already registered?
Are you sure you did? If you’re not positive, there’s a website for that. Even if you have registered, there are certain circumstances that might require you to re-register, such as when you move to another county. If that’s the case, simply fill out a new application and mail it to the Voter Registrar Office of your new county.
When you change your name or move within your county, it’s not necessary to re-register, but it’s important to alert your new County Voter Registrar. To do so, change your address online or inform them in writing by:
- Sending in your voter registration certificate with the information corrected on the back;
- Filling out a new voter registration application form and checking the “change” box; or
- Making the necessary changes when you apply for, or update, your driver’s license.
Why can’t I register the same day I vote?
Currently, only 13 states in the US allow same-day voter registration. If you’d like to see the law change in Texas, there are a few things you can do, such as getting involved in groups that advocate for same-day registration, like the Texas Democrats. You can also contact your state representatives, senators, and the governor to let them know how you feel about the law. That way, if a vote related to the law is brought to the State Congress, your opinion will be considered in the matter.
How do I vote?
In Texas, there are two voting periods: Early voting and Election Day. Early voting can be done by mail or in person, depending on the circumstances. Let’s break it down a bit:
Early voting by mail
Texans can vote early by mail if they:
- Will be traveling or otherwise away from their county during early voting;
- Are sick or disabled;
- Are 65 years of age or older on Election Day; or
- Are confined in jail, but still eligible to vote (i.e. not a convicted felon).
There are a number of ways you can get your hands on a mail-in ballot. If you’re planning on traveling, pay a visit to the Early Voting Clerk in your county or apply online. You can also download the application online, but it must be sent to the Early Voting Clerk and received no later than the 11th day before Election Day. Texans who are 65 or older or disabled can receive all the ballots for all county elections in the calendar year by marking “Annual Application” on their application.
Once you’ve received your ballot, fill it out and mail it back to your Early Voting Clerk so that they receive it by 7 p.m. on Election Day. The only exception to this deadline is if you submit your ballot from outside the United States. In this case, the Early Voting Clerk must receive your application by the fifth day after Election Day.
Early voting in person
Early voting in Texas usually begins the 17th day before Election Day, or the preceding Monday if that day happens to fall on a weekend. To participate in early voting, just look up your closest polling place and show up during the times listed with any of the forms of identification we previously mentioned. There are no special criteria you must meet in order to vote early in person—you just have to be eligible to vote!
Voting on Election Day
First, find your polling place. You can do this online, or, pick up a newspaper (remember those?) on the Saturday before the election, where polling places will be listed by precinct. Not sure what precinct you’re located in? Check your voter registration certificate. You know…the one I told you to stick in your wallet! Once you’ve reached your polling place, you’ll need one of the aforementioned forms of identification.
Why do I need photo identification?
In 2011, the Texas Legislature passed a law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. Although the law has been threatened by appeals since it was instated, it is still in effect to this day, which means you’ll need photo ID if you plan to vote in person early or on Election Day.
After you’ve presented your photo ID to an election worker, he or she will compare it to the official list of registered voters. As long as the name on your ID matches the name on this list, you’re good to go. An election official will guide you to a voting booth and explain how to cast your ballot. If you have questions, speak up—they’re there to help!
If your name does not appear in the official list of registered voters or you refuse to (or can’t) provide photo identification, you may still be eligible to cast a provisional ballot. When you cast a provisional ballot, you’re essentially saying, “Hey! Just because I don’t have (or don’t want to show you) ID, doesn’t mean I’m not registered!”
After your provisional ballot is submitted, election officials in your precinct will determine whether or not to count your vote by taking further steps to verify your eligibility. This can take several days, and there are no clear standards for counting provisional ballots that aren’t rejected. By law, all states must allow you to find out whether your provisional ballot was accepted or rejected. In Texas, you should receive a notice in the mail within 10 days of the election. If your ballot was rejected, this notification should outline the reasons why so that you don’t run into similar problems during the next election.
What about the primaries?
In primary elections, voters from each political party choose which candidates they’d like to see on the fall ballot. In some states, you can only vote in the primary of the political party you’ve registered under. This isn’t the case in Texas. Texans are allowed to choose which political party’s primary they’d like to participate in each year, which is called an “open primary.” So, if you’re a Democrat who feels strongly about Republican candidates and issues, go nuts—and vice versa!
At the state and local level, each candidate has to earn more than 50 percent of the vote to get the nomination. If none of the candidates can achieve this, there will be a runoff election. Here’s the catch: If you vote in the Republican primary, you may only vote in the Republican runoff. Same goes for those who choose to vote in the Democratic primary. If you didn’t bother with the primary, you can vote in either runoff election, and voting Republican or Democrat in the primaries or runoffs does not commit you to voting for either party in the fall general election.
I voted! What happens now?
Good for you! The way your vote contributes to outcome of each election actually depends on the type of election. Here’s a quick overview:
Whether you’re voting in the Democratic or Republican primaries, the goal is pretty much the same—to earn your favorite candidate the most delegates. There’s a lot of crazy, complicated math that goes into the divvying up of delegates, but basically, the more delegates a candidate has, the more likely they are to end up on the national presidential ballot in the fall.
When you submit your ballot in the fall general election, you’re contributing to the “popular vote.” As you may know, the winner of the presidential election is not determined by the popular vote. Instead, each state has designated electors who help to make up the 538 members of the Electoral College. In 48 states, including Texas, the winner of the popular vote also wins all of the electoral votes from that state. Only Nebraska and Maine divvy electoral votes up in proportion with the percentage of the popular vote each candidate receives. To win the presidency, a candidate has to receive the majority of electoral votes (270). If no candidates achieves this, the election will be sent to the House of Representatives, where each state will cast a vote against the top three candidates. The candidate who wins the majority of the votes wins the election.
Phew! That was a lot to take in.
Agreed! At times, this entire process can seem arduous and, at other times, daunting, but the satisfaction you get from voting should most certainly outweigh the headache. Best of luck as you prepare for the next election—and may the odds be ever in your candidate’s favor!
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