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Who can vote by mail in Texas? Is it safe?

HOUSTON – COVID-19 precautions mean more people will be able to vote by mail in the upcoming election. It seems like more people are having security concerns about mail-in voting.

Who can vote by mail in Texas?

Forty-three states and the District of Columbia allow their citizens to vote by mail without restriction. In Texas, you need to fit in a category: over 65 years of age, traveling, incarcerated or have a disability.

“This is where the law has to matter a little bit,” explains Chris Hollins, Harris County Clerk. “In addition to the traditional understanding of what it means to have a disability, it also counts if you are sick, if you are pregnant or if you have a physical condition that makes voting in person dangerous, that creates a likely hood of injury to your health if you vote in person.”

How does COVID-19 fit in?

Hollins explained the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the lack of immunity to COVID-19 can be considered as a factor in your health decision, it just can’t be the only factor.

“So if you are perfectly healthy, then you don’t qualify. But any number of other conditions -- breathing conditions, asthma, arthritis, lung disease heart conditions, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, smoking … physical conditions that many, many Texans and many, many residents in Harris county. You can consider these in your condition. and it’s your decision to make.”

We talked with a few people who have been voting by mail for years.

“I was a soldier, so when I deployed I used the mail-in ballot to be able to vote in the regular elections from overseas. I did that in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and from Iraq,” said lawyer Tom Berg. “It was painless. It was seamless. It worked fine. There were no hitches. You just have to mail it in a timely way.”

Former Texan Valerie Allen votes by mail in Colorado, where everyone has that option. She said she’s never had a problem and enjoys being able to take her time looking over the ballot items from home.

“I’ll open it up. I’ll see all of the items and then I’m able to research and look through it all,” said Allen. “When you are done, you have to sign the back, and this is like an affidavit. It feels very secure and it does take the pressure off if you have time to go.”

Mail-in ballots not counted

During the last presidential election in 2016, 103,380 Harris County voters cast their ballot by mail, but 1,259 were too late. That’s 1.2% that didn’t get their vote in on time and the vote was not counted.

Fast forward to this year in the election in July 2020, smack dab in the middle of COVID-19, 85,922 ballots were received with 2,034 arriving too late. That’s 2.4%, so double the rate of uncounted votes in 2016. In a super close election, that figure could be very significant.

Mail-in ballot concerns

There is another complication when it comes to mail-in voting. As Hollins pointed out in a recent letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, state law makes late-arriving ballots even tougher to count. If you wait until Election Day to send your ballot, and it doesn’t get there the very next day, it’s too late to have your vote counted.

A lot of mail does not get to where it’s going in just one day. The key to making sure your mail-in ballot is counted: don’t wait until the last minute to mail it in.

“Don’t wait until November 3rd to get it in the mail, send it back immediately,” said Hollins.

The governor has not responded to Hollin’s request to extend the tally deadline. The clerk is working with local post officials to try to get ballots moving. You can also drop off ballots in person.