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Here’s how to vote in Texas’ March 5 primary elections

2 months 2 days 14 hours ago Tuesday, February 20 2024 Feb 20, 2024 February 20, 2024 4:14 PM February 20, 2024 in Election Coverage
Source: https://www.texastribune.org/
By: MARÍA MÉNDEZ AND YURIKO SCHUMACHER |

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What’s on the ballot?

While there is a presidential election this year, eligible Texans can also cast their ballots for many Texas officials running for office at the federal, state and local levels.

This includes representatives in the U.S. and Texas houses and the following elected offices:

  • 1 U.S Senator (Ted Cruz)
  • 1 of 3 Railroad Commissioners
  • 15 State Senators
  • 7 State Board of Education members
  • 3 members of the Texas Supreme Court
  • 3 members of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
  • 5 Chief Justices and various justices for Texas Courts of Appeals

Lower-level judges and local county offices will also appear on the ballot:

  • Various district judges, including on criminal and family courts
  • County Courts at Law
  • Justices of the Peace
  • District Attorneys
  • County Attorneys
  • Sheriffs
  • Constables
  • Tax Assessor-Collectors

In the March 5 primary election, Texans will be narrowing candidates for these elected offices within the Democratic and Republican parties. The candidate who wins the majority, or more than half, of votes in a race will face candidates from other parties in the November general election. If no candidate gets a majority of votes in a race, the top two vote-getters will head to a May 28 primary runoff election. The Green and Libertarian parties select their candidates through a series of local conventions beginning March 12 and a state convention that each party needs to announce by then. In Texas, voters can only vote in one party’s primary and runoff or in a third party’s convention.

You can use our ballot lookup tool to see what state and federal elections you can vote in based on your address. Votes can’t be cast in uncontested statewide races, which will be listed separately on the ballot after races with multiple candidates. You can also view how your districts may have changed in 2021 due to redistricting here. (Don’t worry: We don’t store your information.)

What dates do I need to know?

Feb. 5 is the last day to register to vote and to submit an address change for the midterm election.

You can report an address or name change online. You should do this if you’ve moved since the last time you voted, especially if you have moved to a different county or political subdivision or have legally taken a different name.

How do I check if I’m registered to vote?

You can check to see if you’re registered and verify your information through the Texas Secretary of State’s website.

You’ll need one of the following three combinations to log in:

  • Your Texas driver’s license number and date of birth.
  • Your first and last names, date of birth and county you reside in.
  • Your date of birth and Voter Unique Identifier, which appears on your voter registration certificate.

Read more about voter registration requirements further down in this story.

Feb. 23 is the last day to apply to vote by mail.

This option is limited in Texas. Read more about who qualifies here.

When do I need to drop off or mail an application?

Applications must be received by the early voting clerk in your county — not postmarked — by Feb. 23. Applications can also be submitted by fax or email, but the county must receive a hard copy within four business days. They can also be dropped off in person.

You can download an application here or request an application to be mailed to you here.

If you’re looking to vote by mail, give yourself as much leeway as possible. You’ll need to budget for the time it may take your county to get your ballot to you in the mail after you apply.

What is the deadline to mail my ballot?

The deadline for mail-in ballots to be returned to the county is Election Day, March 5. If a ballot is postmarked by 7 p.m. locally that day, it’ll be counted if the county receives it by 5 p.m. on March 6.

Absentee ballots can also be delivered to the county elections office in person with a valid form of ID while polls are open on Election Day.

Completed ballots from military or overseas voters are accepted if they’re received by March 11. (Military and overseas voters can go through a different ballot request and return process.)

Read more about vote-by-mail requirements in this section.

Early voting in person runs from Feb. 20 to March 1. If you can’t vote inside of a polling place because of COVID-19 or a disability, curbside voting may be available to you. Read more about what qualifies as a disability here and about curbside voting options here.

Who is eligible to vote early?

Anyone registered to vote may vote early, but it must be done in person unless you qualify to vote by mail.

Where am I allowed to vote early?

Voters can cast ballots at any polling location in the county where they are registered to vote. Check your county elections office’s website for early-voting locations.

Election Day is March 5.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Are polling locations the same on Election Day as they are during early voting?

Not always. Check the open polling locations in your area before you head to cast your ballot. In some counties, Election Day voting may be restricted to locations in your designated precinct. Other counties allow voters to cast their ballots at any polling place on Election Day.

Read more about voting options for those affected by COVID-19 in this section.

What do I need to know about voter registration requirements?

Who can register to vote in Texas?

U.S. citizens in Texas can register to vote in the election if they are 18 or older or if they will be 18 by Election Day.

Citizens in the state cannot register to vote if they have been convicted of a felony and are still serving a sentence, including parole or probation, or if they have been deemed mentally incapacitated in court. Here are more specifics on eligibility.

How do I register to vote?

You must complete and submit a paper voter registration application by Feb. 5.

You can request a postage-paid application through the mail or find one at county voter registrars’ offices and some post offices, government offices, or high schools. You can also print out the online application and mail it to the voter registrar in your county.

Applications must be postmarked by the Feb. 5 deadline. Download your application here.

Additionally, you can register to vote through the Texas Department of Public Safety while renewing your driver’s license. You may be able to register to vote online if you’re also allowed to renew your license online. This is the only form of online registration in the state.

After you register to vote, you will receive a voter registration certificate within 30 days. It’ll contain your voter information, including the Voter Unique Identifier number needed to update your voter registration online. If the certificate has incorrect information, you’ll need to note corrections and send it to your local voter registrar as soon as possible.

The voter registration certificate can also be used as a secondary form of ID when you vote if you don’t have one of the seven state-approved photo IDs. More info on that here.

Do you have to reregister to vote?

Once you register to vote, you generally remain registered, but there are various reasons why you may want to verify your registration status. For example, you need to update your registration after a name or address change. You can make those updates online here.

What does it mean if my voter registration is in “suspense”?

If a county receives a nondeliverable notice after sending a voter registration certificate or suspects an address change, a voter is placed on a “suspense list” and asked to confirm their address. Voters on the suspense list can still vote if they update or confirm their address before the voter registration deadline for an election or fill out a “statement of residence” when voting, but they may have to vote at their previous polling location or vote on a limited ballot. If no action is taken by a suspended voter, they are removed from the voter rolls after about four years, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

Federal law prevents the state from removing registered voters within 90 days of a federal election unless the voter has died, been convicted of a felony or been declared mentally incapacitated.

If you’re concerned about your voter registration, you can verify it online here.

What if I moved after the voter registration deadline?

You must reside in a Texas county by the voter registration deadline to vote in the upcoming election unless you qualify for absentee voting. You can read more about absentee and mail-in voting here.

You can vote at your previous polling location if you moved within the same county or political subdivision. Or you can vote at your new polling location on a ballot limited to the elections you would qualify to vote in at both polling locations, such as statewide races.

But limited ballots are available only during early voting at a “main early voting polling place,” which is usually the office of the election administrator or county clerk who runs elections in your county. The main early voting polling place should be noted in a county’s list of early voting locations.

Eligible people experiencing homelessness can vote, as long as they provide on their registration an address and description for where they are residing, such as a shelter or a street intersection. If needed, their mailing address can be different, but a P.O. Box address is usually not considered a residence address.

What do I do if I run into issues with my voter registration?

If you have questions or concerns about your registration, you can find your county’s voter registration contact here.

Inside polling locations, there are typically “resolution desks” where poll workers can address registration issues.

You can also find more information on frequently asked questions from the secretary of state’s office at votetexas.gov.

What do I need to know about mail-in voting?

How do I know if I’m eligible to vote by mail?

This option is fairly limited in Texas. You’re allowed to vote by mail only if:

  • You will be 65 or older by Election Day.
  • You will not be in your county for the entire voting period, including early voting.
  • You cite a sickness or disability that prevents you from voting in person without needing personal assistance or without the likelihood of injuring your health.
  • You’re expected to give birth within three weeks before or after Election Day.
  • You are confined in jail but otherwise eligible (i.e., not convicted of a felony).

College students who are registered at a residence in Texas, such as a parent’s home, but are studying out of state can apply for absentee ballots. Students studying in Texas who are from other states can also choose to register to vote in the state with their dorm or Texas address.

If you are voting absentee, such as from overseas, and want to see what will appear on your ballot, you can get a sample ballot from your county. Sample ballots can be found on your county’s election website in most cases.

What identification do I need to vote by mail?

Texas rules for voting by mail require voters to provide an ID number on both their application for a ballot and the carrier envelope used to return a completed ballot. This must be one the following ID numbers:

  • A driver’s license number
  • A state ID number
  • The last four digits of their Social Security number
  • Texas election ID certificate number (a photo ID issued by DPS and which is different from the number found on your voter registration certificate)

If they don’t have any of these, voters can also check a box indicating they have not been issued that identification.

This identification rule was added by the Texas Legislature in 2021, and some voters have had their ballots or applications rejected because they didn’t provide an ID number or the number they provided did not match the one the state had for the voter.

If you don’t have a license number on file or are unsure about which ID number you provided, the secretary of state has previously suggested contacting your local voter registrar to ask about how to add one of the required numbers to your voter registration record.

Other voting advocates have suggested voters include both their driver’s license or state ID number and the last four digits of their Social Security number, if they have both, to avoid issues.

Does lack of immunity to COVID-19 qualify as a disability during the pandemic?

While a lack of immunity to COVID-19 alone does not allow a voter to request a ballot based on disability, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that it was up to voters to decide if that lack of immunity, combined with their medical history, meets the state’s eligibility criteria.

Note that the Texas election code’s definition for disability is broader than other federal definitions. A voter is eligible to vote by mail if they have a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents them from voting in person without the likelihood of “needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter’s health.” It’s up to the voter to decide this, and election officials don’t have the authority to question a voter’s reasoning.

What kind of postage do I need to return my mail-in ballot?

It depends on where you live. Postage for mail-in ballots will vary by county because the style and size of the ballot could be different from county to county — and some counties may pay postage for you. Local elections offices should have the specifics once ballots are finalized. That said, if you don’t have enough postage, your ballot is not supposed to be returned to you. Instead, the Postal Service is supposed to deliver the ballot and bill the county for the insufficient or missing postage.

What if there’s an issue with my mail-in ballot?

Texas will allow voters to correct their mail-in ballots if the ballots are at risk of being rejected for a technical error, including missing information or signatures. This also applies to issues with the applications for those ballots. County officials are responsible for alerting voters if there is a defect with their application or ballot.

Voters can use a new online ballot tracker to check the status of both their application to vote by mail and their ballot. The tracker can also be used to make corrections. You can access the tracker here. The deadline to correct mail-in ballot applications is Feb. 23. The deadline to correct a mail-in ballot is March 11.

What do I need to know about going to the polls?

How does primary voting work?

Primary elections are used to designate who will be a party’s candidate in the general election in each race, so you’ll be selecting among members of the same party in casting your vote.

At the polls, you’ll have to choose whether you want to vote in the Republican or Democratic primary. Some counties will host what’s known as a joint primary, which means everyone checks in at the same desk and uses the same voting machines. In other counties, there will be separate check-in stations and lines for either party.

How can I find which polling places are near me?

County election offices are supposed to post on their websites information on polling locations for Election Day and during the early-voting period by Feb. 13. The secretary of state’s website will also have information on polling locations closer to the start of voting. However, polling locations may change, so be sure to check your county’s election website before going to vote.

What form of ID do I need to bring?

You’ll need one of seven types of valid photo ID to vote in Texas:

  • A state driver’s license (issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety).
  • A Texas election identification certificate (issued by DPS).
  • A Texas personal identification card (issued by DPS).
  • A Texas license to carry a handgun (issued by DPS).
  • A U.S. military ID card with a personal photo.
  • A U.S. citizenship certificate with a personal photo.
  • A U.S. passport.

Check out this story for more details.

What if I don’t have a valid photo ID?

Voters can still cast votes if they sign a form swearing that they have a “reasonable impediment” from obtaining a proper photo ID. However, those voters will also have to present one of the following types of supporting identification documents:

  • A valid voter registration certificate.
  • A certified birth certificate.
  • A document confirming birth admissible in a court of law that establishes your identity (which may include a foreign birth document).
  • A copy of or an original current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other document that shows the voter’s name and address. (Any government document that contains a voter’s photo must be an original.)

If you have a valid photo ID but forgot it, you can cast a provisional ballot but will have to visit the local voter registrar’s office within six days of the election to present an acceptable ID or documentation in order for the ballot to be counted. A registered voter without a valid photo ID or any of the supporting documents can also cast a provisional ballot.

Are there rules at the polls?

Cellphones, cameras, computers and other devices that can record sound or images cannot be used within 100 feet of voting stations (where ballots are marked). There are usually traffic cones or signs indicating this. Campaigning, including wearing clothing or other items that publicize candidates, political parties or measures on the ballot, is also banned beyond this point.

Voters are allowed to use written notes to cast their ballot at the discretion of election officers, who may determine if the material counts as campaigning.

Firearms, including handguns, are also prohibited at polling places, according to Texas law.

What are my rights as a voter?

If a registered voter’s name does not appear on the list of registered voters because of an administrative issue, they have the right to cast a provisional ballot. Voters are entitled to get written instructions about how to cast a ballot or to ask a polling place officer or worker (but not about who or what to vote for). If a voter makes a mistake while marking their ballot, they have a right to use up to two additional ballots to make corrections. Voters generally have the right to cast their ballots in secret and should not be subject to intimidation.

Voters with disabilities or limited English proficiency can also get interpretation, assistance or accommodations to vote. A state law passed in 2023 also allows voters with disabilities or mobility problems to skip the line at their polling location and requires each polling location to have a designated parking spot for curbside voting.

Texas law says voters have the right to vote during work hours without being penalized or losing pay, but this may not apply if a worker has two hours before or after work to go vote.

On Election Day, voters have the right to cast their ballot as long as they’re in line by 7 p.m. At the polls, voters can talk to election officers or poll workers if they run into issues.

The secretary of state’s office has a helpline at 1-800-252-VOTE (8683) to reach state attorneys available to assist voters and election officials with questions.

A coalition of voting rights groups runs voter protection hotlines in several languages. Disability Rights Texas also offers a helpline for people with disabilities.

What if I was planning to vote in person, but I have been diagnosed with COVID-19?

If you have contracted COVID-19 or are exhibiting symptoms, consider requesting an emergency early voting ballot or using curbside voting.

Emergency ballot: These ballots can be requested if you become sick or disabled close to an election and are unable to go to a polling place on Election Day. To qualify, you must designate a representative to submit an application in person on your behalf and have a certified doctor’s note. The application must be received by your county’s early voting clerk before 5 p.m. on Election Day.

Your ballot must be returned by the same designated representative before 7 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. Contact your county elections office for more details about an emergency early-voting ballot due to sickness or disability.

Curbside voting: You can also contact your county elections office to determine if you’re eligible for curbside voting, which must be made available at every polling place for voters with disabilities unable to enter a polling location.

How can I make sure my ballot is counted?

How do I know if my provisional ballot was counted?

If you voted through a provisional ballot because of an administrative issue or photo ID problem, you should receive a notice by mail letting you know if your ballot was counted in the local canvass, which is the official tallying of votes. These notices must be mailed by March 25, according to the state’s election law calendar.

What about regular ballots?

Counties keep track of voter history, or a voter’s participation in elections, but their votes are anonymous once ballots are submitted and added to the count of votes, said Chris Davis, the voter registration division director for Travis County.

To ensure vote counts are accurate, counties test election equipment multiple times, including in a public test conducted before an election.

“If that county has performed a successful logic and accuracy test before that election and that voter in that county has actually marked their ballot and cast it, I believe they can safely assume that their vote is counted,” Davis said.

What voter data is public?

Voter history, or whether a person voted in an election, is public. This includes primary election history, during which voters have to pick either the Republican or Democratic primary. This means the primary you voted in may be disclosed in the rosters of voters that counties are required to post. Your ballot choices are not public.

Disclosure: The Texas Secretary of State has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/01/15/texas-voting-primary-2024/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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