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Texas Decides: Your Questions Answered About Mail-In Voting For The 2020 Elections

The League of Women Voters has been conducting curbside voter registration outside Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter Lane.
The League of Women Voters has been conducting curbside voter registration outside Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter Lane.

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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. KUT’s Producer Trey Shaar spoke with Special Projects Editor Matt Largey to answer some of those questions.

RELATED | Have A Question About How The Election Will Work During The Pandemic? Ask Our Texas Decides Project.

Trey Shaar: 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."

Matt Largey: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 October 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, that you should request your ballot as soon as possible to make sure that you get it in time and then 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. And 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 said "send me all of them this year" — it 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 check 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?

Exactly. Yes.

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?"

I'm going to speak specifically about Travis County, because Kathleen is in Austin. The answer is: Yes, you can drop off your mail-in ballot in person. There are four places around the city that you can drop off your completed mail-in ballot. Those are at 5501 Airport Boulevard. That's the Travis County Tax Office. You can go through the drive-thru lane where you would normally make a payment.

And then there's two locations at the 700 Lavaca Street parking garage. There's one place at the Lavaca entrance, and then there's one at the Guadalupe entrance. And then at 1010 Lavaca, which is right by a Travis County office building. If you pull into that parking lot from 11th Street between Guadalupe and Lavaca, then there'll be a person there to take your mail-in ballot.

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 October 1. So, basically, you have from October 1, all the way up to Election Day that you can drop them off like that.

Yeah, I was going to mention the ID thing. 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."

Finally, 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, which means 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. 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.

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