As Early Voting Gets Underway, Here’s What To Know Before You Head To The Polls

In some counties, voters can cast a ballot at any location, while in others, they need to vote at a location in their precinct.

By Rhonda Fanning & Alexandra HartOctober 22, 2018 1:15 pm|

Monday is the first day of early voting in Texas. This midterm election is partly a test of whether Texans will actually come out to the polls: Texas has one of the poorest rates of voter turnout in the U.S., but many are expecting that will change given the current political polarization.

Brian Kirkpatrick, a reporter for Texas Public Radio, visited a polling location in far western San Antonio, and says a handful of voters of various political persuasions were lined up, waiting to cast their ballots.

“We’ve probably seen about maybe a dozen or two voters so far,” Kirkpatrick says. “I think there’s a little more excitement for a midterm election. … The Beto O’Rourke-Ted Cruz race has stirred up a little excitement, however, there’s still a lot of apathy out there: only 14 percent of the county’s registered voters turned out for the March primaries this year.”

In Austin, Syeda Hasan talked to voters the University of Texas at Austin’s Flawn Academic Center, a popular voting location. Hasan says early Monday, there were no lines and voters were able to get in and out within about five minutes. Hasan says during most election days, the FAC, as it’s known, is a pretty busy location, and she expects things to pick up later in the day. She also says while that polling location is on a university campus, it draws a fairly diverse group of voters.

“We’re seeing a pretty diverse crowd here today,” Hasan says. “You definitely see large numbers of students voting here, but there are also several UT professors [and] plenty of folks that work on campus in different capacities.”

That’s partly because in Travis County, as in all counties around the state, voters can cast ballots at any early voting poll location.

Now, a look at what voters need to know before heading to the polls. Sherri Greenberg, clinical professor at UT-Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, says to find a polling location, voters can go to the website of their county clerk’s office, or the Texas Secretary of State’s website or even the website for their city, in some cases.

Before heading to the polls, Greenberg says voters need to be aware of voting laws, and the seven forms of identification they can use.

“You must have a Texas driver’s license, or a Texas election ID certificate, or a Texas personal identification card, or a Texas handgun license, or a U.S. citizenship certificate with your photo, or a U.S. military ID card with your photo, or a U.S. passport,” Greenberg says.

A voter’s eligibility to vote at a county polling place is determined by the address of their registration, not the address on the ID presented at the time of voting. The ID verifies the voter’s identity.

Many voters who work during hours when polls are open might find it hard to get to the polls, or they might face long lines. Greenberg says the Texas election code requires employers to allow employees time off to vote if they normally wouldn’t have such time available during their regular hours. Greenberg says to check with employers for more information.

In a year when about 15.6 million Texans are registered to vote – around 1.6 million more than during the last midterm election – Greenberg says it means there’s a lot of enthusiasm, but it remains to be seen whether people will actually come to the polls.

“Clearly you would expect to see an uptick,” Greenberg says. “Typically, you see a burst at the beginning, and then a lot of people towards the end of early voting.”

Written by Caroline Covington.

Note: An earlier version of this story said that voters in some Texas counties are restricted to precinct polling places during early voting. In fact, voters can vote at any early polling place in the county where they are registered. Some counties do require voters to vote at a precinct polling place on Election Day. Other counties, including Travis, Montgomery, Fort Bend and Collin, allow all voters to cast their ballot at countywide vote centers. In all cases, voters must present a state-approved form of identification to cast a ballot. Eligibility to vote is not determined by the address on the ID, and voters will not be required to file a provisional ballot if their ID address does not match their voter registration address.