What you need to know about voting by mail

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Travis County Clerk’s Office mailed almost 12,000 ballots Thursday as applications for mail-in ballots continue to pour in.

Central Texas election officials expect a record number of ballots to be cast by mail in the November election. With ongoing legal challenges over who can vote by mail, here is everything you need to know about voting by mail in Texas.

The deadline for a vote-by-mail application to be received by the county clerk is Oct. 23. The deadline to turn in a vote-by-mail ballot is Election Day or the next day, if the ballot is postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Currently, a county elections office has seven days to send out a ballot once an application is received and approved.

Who can vote by mail?

In Texas, in order to vote by mail, you must be:

  • 65 years or older
  • Sick or disabled
  • Out of the country on Election Day and during the early voting period
  • Confined to jail but otherwise eligible to vote

Richard Forcey, 68, just received his mail-in ballot from Travis County. The coronavirus pandemic prompted him to apply for a mail-in ballot. Now with rising concerns about postal service performance, he wants to vote in-person.

“My concern is if it will get there on time,” Forcey explained. “I have enough trouble with just mailing regular mail.”

To make the change to in-person voting, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said the process starts with the voter going to an early voting location or an Election Day vote center.

“Give it, surrender it to the election judge, the election judge will spoil it and take your name off the ballot-by-mail list, and then you will begin the process of voting a regular ballot,” DeBeauvoir said.

If your by-mail ballot never arrived or you’re afraid you’ll get it too late, you can also go to the election judge for a provisional ballot and verify you won’t vote by mail. 

Travis County has received more than 76,000 applications, almost triple the amount for the 2016 election. In most counties, ballots started going out last month.

“We received a certified ballot, and we were able to start preparing envelopes with ballots to mail back to the voters the last week in September,” DeBeauvoir said.

How do I apply to vote by mail?

You can find a vote-by-mail application on the Texas Secretary of State’s Office website, here.

Mail the signed copy to your county clerk, not the secretary of state. Applications sent to the secretary of state will be rejected. Your vote-by-mail application must be received by the county clerk by Oct. 23.

How do I submit my vote-by-mail ballot?

Election officials are expecting unprecedented demand for vote-by-mail ballots. You’re encouraged to turn your ballot in early to ensure it is received by the county clerk by Election Day.

“This will be the biggest election ever, and we have more by-mail ballots than ever before in any election,” said DeBeauvoir.

In Travis County, you will also have the option of hand delivering your vote-by-mail ballot in a drive-thru at 5501 Airport Blvd.

It is not the responsibility of the county clerk to verify the eligibility requirement of a vote-by-mail applicant, as voters are tasked with self-certifying.

Several lawsuits are challenging Gov. Greg Abbott’s order restricting counties to one drop-off location each.

Attorney General Ken Paxton has fought against ongoing efforts to expand vote by mail to all Texans during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Texas Supreme Court ruled it’s up to voters, not election officials, to verify if they are eligible.

“Individual voters are going to make their own decisions,” said David Coale, a Dallas-based attorney. “They’re going to check those blanks, and the chance of being prosecuted for a violation of the election code is very, very slim.”

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