Alice Embree :
THE VOTE | Voting by mail in Texas

Voting rights and voting access are fundamental to democracy.

Photo by Steve Rainwater / Flickr / Creative Commons.

By Alice Embree | The Rag Blog |January 13, 2022

It’s time. If you are eligible to vote by mail in Texas, send in your application, mark “annual,” and be aware of new requirements.

Voting rights and voting access are fundamental to democracy. In 2020, mail ballots were embraced as a pandemic safety measure in record numbers. Mail ballots accounted for 46% of the votes in the presidential election. And another 26% percent of voters cast ballots in early voting. In contrast, the percentage of election-day voters fell to a record low, 28%.

In three states, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, mail ballots have been universally used and have a lengthy track record as secure. In 2020 with a raging pandemic, many states expanded voting by mail. Texas was one of five states (with Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee) that stubbornly refused. Texas kept two barriers in place. Texas required a non-pandemic-related excuse and an annual application by mail to get a Vote By Mail (VBM) ballot. Despite the barriers, voting by mail increased in Texas from 7% in 2016 to 11% in 2020. The Texas Alliance for Retired Americans (TARA), an AFL-CIO affiliate, helped educate Texas voters on the vote by mail option.

In 2020, voter suppression bills swept through state legislatures like a contagious variant of Jim Crow.

In 2020, in the aftermath of the presidential election, voter suppression bills swept through state legislatures like a contagious variant of Jim Crow. Ruth Hughs, the Republican Secretary of State in Texas, determined that in 2020, “Texas had an election that was smooth and secure.” But measures restricting voter access were introduced in Texas under the guise of “voter integrity.” These measures passed in 2020 despite the courage of Democratic legislators who denied a regular session quorum by exiting the state.

The Texas Alliance for Retired Americans (TARA), along with many other plaintiffs, has challenged the constitutionality of Texas voter suppression measures, and advocates for reform at the federal level. For more detail on what Texas voters are now up against, visit the TARA blog.

Still, voting by mail, if eligible, remains a safe measure in the face of a continuing pandemic. You can vote by mail in Texas, if 1) you are 65 or older; 2) sick or disabled; 3) out of the county on election day and during early voting; 4) confined in jail, but otherwise eligible; or 5) expecting to give birth within three weeks before or after election day.

There are important changes that have been made. You still have to print out an application and mail it in. You now have to provide certain identification information on the application. You still need to check the box “annual” in order to have mail ballots for every election. The only new requirement is that the Secretary of State is required to provide tracking information that will let you know if your application has been received and what the status of the application is. That tracking information was already in place in certain counties, including Travis where Austin is located. Here’s what you need to do to have Vote by Mail ballots in 2022. Information is also available on the TARA Facebook site, but is summarized below.

Apply for a ballot by mail today.

• Applications for Ballot by Mail must be resubmitted each calendar year beginning Jan. 1st.
• To vote by mail in the March 1 Primary, applications must be received by your County Election Administrator by February 18.

If you live in Travis County you can get an application from The Travis County Clerk Elections Division.
• Download application here.
• Call 512-854-4996 and they will mail you an application.
• Mail the completed application to
Travis County Clerk – Elections Division
P.O. Box 149325
Austin, TX 78714-9325

If you do not live in Travis County you can get an application from the Texas Secretary of State.
• Request online and have an application mailed to you.
• Print the form here.
• Mail to your County Elections Administrator.

• TARA has a tool for locating addresses.

If you are eligible to vote by mail in Texas, send in
your application immediately.

If you are eligible to vote by mail in Texas, send in your application immediately. Check that you are registered, and change your registration if you have moved. Be aware of changes to the law. The one advantage in the law is that the Secretary of State has to provide tracking for the status of your application to vote by mail and your ballot carrier envelope. A disadvantage is that you really need to mail your ballot. The new legislation has removed innovative solutions such as the ones used in Harris County. There can be no 24-hour drive through voting. There can be no dropboxes except ones inside a voting area on  election day. New identification requirements must be on applications to vote by mail.

The forces who want to restrict access and participation depend upon a climate of fear. The most important thing Texas voters can do is be unafraid. As Bernie Sanders has said, “Our democracy is under severe attack.” He says we must urge Congress “to reform our voting rights laws and to combat oligarchy by addressing the very real needs of the working class of this country.” Save democracy and make it relevant to people.

A summary of changes made to Texas election law follows and is available on the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans (TARA) website. The Rag Blog will continue to keep you posted.

Changes in Texas Election Law

New Texas Election Laws—What They Mean for Voters, Those Who Assist Voters, and Election Workers (1/4/2022 TARA update)

Voting Hours and Locations: Overnight voting banned. Drive-through voting banned. New minimum and maximum hours for early voting apply statewide.

Voter Registration: Monthly checks of voters’ citizenship status by comparing DPS records to voter rolls. Penalties against voter registrars for non-compliant voter lists. Parts of registration form regarding eligibility and ID/Social Security numbers cannot be pre-filled to aid registrant. Voters can update their registration online even if they move to another county in Texas.

Voting by Mail: Counties are prohibited from sending unsolicited VBM applications. Voters now must provide their driver’s license number, personal ID number, election ID number, or last four digits of their Social Security number on their VBM application and ballot carrier envelope. If the number provided doesn’t match the voter’s identifying data on the voter roll, the application or mail ballot is rejected. If the VBM application is rejected because of a number issue, the county must notify the voter, and the voter can correct the error via a new online VBM application and ballot tracker. If the VBM ballot is rejected because of a number issue, the voter may be able to cure the problem (as described below).

“Curing” Errors on VBM Carrier Envelopes: When there is a problem with the ballot carrier envelope, the county must return the envelope within two business days if it is possible to correct the error and return the envelope before the polls close on election day. If there’s not enough time for the mail option, the county may (but is not required to) contact the voter by phone or email and advise the voter she/he can either ask for the VBM application to be cancelled or come to the clerk’s office in person within six days after the election to cure the defect. Voters should provide their email and phone on the VBM application so the county can contact them if necessary.

Assisting Voters: Persons who assist voters with a VBM application, VBM ballot, or in-person ballot must provide their relationship to the voter and their address, sign an oath, and mark that they did not receive compensation. Persons who drive seven or more voters to the polls to vote curbside (due to disability or illness) must fill out a new form. A new “vote harvesting” crime occurs if a person receives payment to interact with a voter “in the physical presence of an official ballot or ballot voted by mail” to deliver votes for a candidate or measure. Note: Persons with a disability are entitled to a “reasonable accommodation” per federal law if state law would hinder needed assistance.

Poll Watchers: Watchers must complete a new online training program developed by the secretary of state and sign an oath to refrain from disruptive behavior. They cannot be removed for violating election laws unless the violation was observed by an election judge or clerk. But the election judge can call law enforcement to remove watchers who “commit a breach of the peace or a violation of law.”

It is a crime if an election officer “intentionally or knowingly refuses to accept a watcher for service” when required or if the election officer takes “any action” to “make observation not reasonably effective.” Watchers are entitled to be “near enough to see and hear” what they are trying to monitor, unless prohibited. They are forbidden to be present at the voting station when the voter is preparing her/his ballot or being assisted. Otherwise, the watcher “may not be denied free movement where election activity is occurring.” Parties appointing watchers can get a court order if one of their watchers is “unlawfully prevented or obstructed from the performance of” the watcher’s duties.

[Alice Embree is an Austin writer and activist who serves on the board of directors of the New Journalism Project, is associate editor of The Rag Blog, and was a founder of The Rag, Austin’s legendary underground paper, in 1966. Alice’s new memoir, Voice Lessons, was published by the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History and distributed by the University of Texas Press. Embree is an editor of Celebrating The Rag: Austin’s Iconic Underground Newspaper, published in 2016 by the New Journalism Project, and an editor of Exploring Space City!: Houston’s Historic Underground Newspaper, to be released this fall. Alice is active with the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans (TARA).

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2 Responses to Alice Embree :
THE VOTE | Voting by mail in Texas

  1. Frances Hans Morey says:

    The Constitutional right to vote has never been more threatened than it is now and leading up to the mid-term elections. The barriers to voting are assiduously being erected through legislation in Red States all over the country. Make sure you are registered and help your neighbors get to the polls.

  2. Alice, thanks for this write up. Vote, vote Democratic, our struggling democratic republic depends on it. This election and the next determines whether we have a democratic republic or a one-party minority fascist regime.

    I have been voting from overseas for some time. There are some problems, mostly caused by postal service now in the states where before it was here in Thailand for some time after the coup. It seems most of the time now if, that is if, my mail gets to Thailand it gets to me. Because of the slow mail time I have to use the emailed ballot and sizes are just a tad different in envelope and printer paper here. Somewhat of a nightmare putting it all together with lots of glue and tape but so far so good. So far I have been successful in returning my ballots on time.

    I might add one benefit is my home county election officials have been very helpful answering questions and verifying what I am doing. I don’t know but rather suspect that all counties are not the same.

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