Making The Choice To Vote By Mail, And How To Get It Done

In Texas, people with disabilities have had the option to cast a mail-in ballot for years. But now, some are taking the option more seriously because of COVID-19.

By Shelly BrisbinJuly 2, 2020 10:20 am,

Thursday is the last day to request a mail-in ballot for July 14 runoff elections. Advocacy groups had hoped to expand vote-by-mail privileges to more people, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. They even filed lawsuits with that goal in mind. But those suits failed.

That means to cast a ballot by mail in Texas, voters must fall into one of four categories: be 65 years or older; jailed but otherwise eligible to vote; traveling outside their home county on Election Day; or have a disability.

As a person with a disability, I’m eligible to request a mail-in ballot. Last month, I did so for the first time.

I like going out to cast a ballot. Voting in person feels good. But for the July 14 runoff election, I gave serious thought to safety, in light of the  pandemic.

I have low vision, I don’t drive and I use high-contrast screen settings, when they’re available, on computers and on voting machines. Though my disability qualifies me to vote by mail in Texas, I’ve never done it. I’ve always had other options. And it’s really important to me to participate in life as everyone else does.

But as I considered whether to vote in person or to request a mail-in ballot, I thought about the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 – either while traveling to and from the polls by bus, or at the voting center. County officials have put protections in place for voters and election workers.  But still, what if I became infected without knowing it? I could pass the virus on to someone else – my elderly mother perhaps.

I reluctantly made the decision to cast a ballot by mail.

How Vote-By-Mail Works In Texas

There are three main steps to vote by mail:

1. Fill out a request for a mail-in ballot.

2. Send that request to your county election office. Thursday, July 2, is the deadline for requests. The election office will mail a ballot sometime during the early voting period, before Election Day.

3. Once you receive your ballot in the mail, fill it out and mail it to the election office postmarked by Election Day, July 14.

I started the process using screen reader software on my computer that reads the content of the screen aloud. Screen readers provide people with blindness or low vision a means of navigating the computer without vision.

I found the application for a ballot by mail on the the Texas secretary of state’s website, along with instructions. Then, I download a PDF version of the application. (You can also order a paper application to be mailed to you, but it’s too late to do that for the July 14 election.)

Next, I filled out the PDF form on my computer. You can also print it and fill it out by hand, if that’s easier. If you’re unable to fill out the form yourself because of a disability or another reason, you can obtain assistance. The person who provides help must enter their contact information and sign the form, indicating that they’re helping you at your request.

After that, I checked the box that matched my reason for requesting a mail-in ballot: I checked “Disability.” Other eligibility categories require further explanation on the form.

I also had to indicate the type election in which I was seeking to vote: for example, the July primary runoff election, or the November general election. If you’re voting in a primary, indicate the political party and check “Any Resulting Runoff.” The July 14 election includes runoffs. And if you wish to vote by mail in subsequent elections, check “Annual Application” to receive ballots for elections during the rest of the calendar year.

Some counties accept emailed or faxed applications to vote by mail. If yours does, you’ll also need to mail the original form to the election office. Get that address on your county’s election website.

Sometime during the early voting period, I should receive my ballot in the mail. I’ll mark my choices and return it, postmarked by Election Day, July 14.

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