This Friday, Oct. 23 is the deadline for eligible voters to request a mail-in ballot in Texas. Concerns and confusion about the mail ballot process have left some voters asking: Am I doing this right? As part of our statewide series “Texas Decides,” we got answers for voters who are perplexed about certain aspects of mail voting as the state is seeing record usage.
Emily Deakins and her husband John decided to vote by mail for the first time because of the pandemic. Her husband has cancer and they didn’t want to take the risk of waiting in line. They dropped off their ballots in person, at Houston’s NRG Arena. It’s the only place voters can hand deliver a mail ballot in Harris County.
“When I pulled up to the tent set up where I needed to hand in the mail ballot I was approached right at the window of my car by somebody who asked for my ballot as well as my ID, my driver’s license,” she said.
After dropping off her ballot, Deakins began to wonder.
“My question is why is it necessary if I drop off my mail in ballot at a county clerk location to show my ID, whereas, if I go to a post office I can just drop my ballot into a post box?” she asked.
Roxanne Werner said its state law. She’s director of community relations for the Harris County clerk’s office.
“That was a rule that was set up for in-person delivery by the state of Texas,” Werner said.
So, that applies wherever you’re hand delivering a mail ballot in Texas.
Jacque Callanen is the elections administrator for Bexar County in San Antonio.
“When they hand deliver their ballot they are in fact voting, they’re handing that to an election official, much like they would in a polling place so they are required for photo ID and to make sure that they’re delivering only their ballot,” Callanen said.
Inside the Bexar County election’s mail room, a machine the size of a table top printer is mechanically folding white mail ballots. They’ll be sent out to voters. So far, the elections office has received 70,000 completed mail ballots as of Thursday morning.
That’s already higher than the last presidential election.
Rose Franzen is a voter in Austin who also requested a mail ballot for the first time.
Here’s her question:
“My main concern is if I vote by mail — which I have my ballot already — if for some reason they don’t like my signature or something else is wrong with my ballot that I will not be notified in time to correct it and it won’t count,” Franzen said.
Both Bexar County and Harris County officials say ballot rejection is very low but it does happen on occasion.
There is a process for correction. If the signature on the ballot envelope doesn’t match the signature on the mail-in ballot request application, Callanen said it goes under review by a group of local election judges called the early ballot board.
“If the early ballot board has a question about that, the law allows us to go back and look at the last six signatures that we have on file for that voter so they do their due diligence,” said Callenen.
Earlier this week, a decision in the 5th circuit court of appeals ruled Texas election officials don’t have to notify voters of ballot signature errors, until after the election is over. Counties can do it voluntarily though. Callanen says her office in Bexar County does that.
“Our staff here does an amazing job and if we get ballots in now that people did not sign across the back we’re sending it back to them and we say please sign it. We don’t want them to be disenfranchised,” she said.
Roxanne Werner says Harris County does the same.
“We will make an attempt to contact you and let you know what your other options are so if there is a chance to rectify that or if it needs to be cancelled and you can vote in person, we will make every attempt on our end to let the voters know that,” Werner said.
One final note, if you have a mail ballot, and change your mind and want to vote in person, you can. Just bring your blank ballot to the poll so election officials can destroy it. If you forget it at home, you can still vote at the polling site using a provisional ballot.