Exercising your right to vote can be confusing or intimidating, regardless if you’re a first-time voter or a veteran.
In 2021, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1, or the so-called election integrity bill, which changed a number of rules related to how Texans can vote.
We talked with the nonpartisan organization League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLU-Texas) and the Bexar County Election Administrator to find out the do’s and don’ts of voting.
Who is eligible to vote in Texas?
- United States citizens
- Those ages 18 and older
- Residents of Texas for at least 30 days
- Those who are mentally competent
- People not convicted of a felony
What forms of identification are accepted to vote?
- Texas driver’s license or personal identification card
- Texas handgun license
- U.S. Passport (book or card)
- U.S. Military photo identification card
- U.S. Citizenship certificate with a photograph
Student identification cards are NOT allowed.
Can I vote by mail in Texas?
Mail-in voting is still allowed, but there are very specific rules on who can get a ballot application and how it is filled out.
This is for people who are ...
- At least 65 years old
- Living with a disability
- Pregnant and due within three weeks before or after the election
- Out of state during the entire election period
- In jail, but not convicted of a felony
In order to request a mail-in ballot application, eligible voters can go online to the Texas Secretary of State or the county of residence to download the form and mail it in.
County election administrators are allowed to send out those applications, but only if it is requested specifically by the voter, according to Dr. Annie Johnson Benifield, president of the League of Women Voters of Houston.
“Unless you request one, they can’t automatically mail one out to everybody who’s eligible,” Benifield said.
Community groups and politicians can send out vote by mail applications without a voter requesting one. Applications should be mailed early to ensure ballots arrive on time. Bexar County says they should be received at least 11 days before any election.
SB1 changed the requirements of requesting mail-in ballots and what is needed for that request.
“So many people are having their ballots flagged because the new law imposes requirements that people write on their application either their driver’s license or their Social Security number,” said Sarah Labowitz, policy and advocacy director for ACLU-Texas.
Bexar County election officials say they’re asking voters to fill in both their driver’s license and the last four digits of their Social Security number because voters may not remember which one they used to sign up.
“You know, older voters, we registered to vote 40 years ago, 50 years ago, and the form didn’t even ask for that,” said Bexar County election administrator Jacque Callanen.
Election administrators say the redesign of the security envelope to send in the actual mail-in ballot also confused many voters.
Callanen said the secrecy envelope was created to keep your vote private, and so election workers know if it has been tampered with after it was dropped in the mail.
Once the ballot is filled out, the voter needs to fill out the outside boxes with their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number. The voter must then seal the envelope and then sign over the flap so the signature is completely visible.
Voters can track mail-in ballots online using the Texas Secretary of State’s website or through their county of residence.
What happens if there’s a problem with my application or mail-in ballot?
County election administrators may reach out to a voter if there is a problem.
“They may reach out to you if there’s adequate time, but it’s not required by law that they do,” Benifield said. “Election administrators in Harris County, and other counties, have been vigilant in terms of having someone in their office dedicated to reaching out ... to give people an opportunity to come in … to fix what was wrong with it, so their ballot could count.”
Curbside voting vs. drive-thru voting
Drive-thru voting, which was created during the height of the pandemic, is no longer legal under SB1.
However, curbside voting is available to eligible voters, such as those older than 65 or those with a disability.
The ACLU-TX says there should be a sign indicating there is curbside voting and an attendant will come out to help.
If there isn’t a sign or there are problems, the ACLU-TX encourages voters to call 866-OUR-VOTE to talk with lawyers who can help answer questions.
Getting a ride to the polls
The League of Women Voters says people giving rides to groups of seven or more voters who are non-relatives must fill out a form.
“The question is the concern about individuals harvesting votes, or convincing people to vote,” Benifield said. “So, they want a record of the person who actually brought you to the poll if that person is not a relative.”
There are services through METRO that can be used if a voter calls in advance.
Asking for help at the polls
Election workers are limited in what they can do to help voters, according to the League of Women Voters.
- Read the ballot out loud
- Tell you how the machine works
- Explain who is on the ballot or differences between people
- Cannot offer explanations of language to voters
“Even when you bring in someone to assist you, they have to fill out a form indicating who that person was that provides you with assistance,” Benifield said. “You can bring somebody with you to the polls to help you vote, except they can’t do any more than what the poll workers can.”
Voters also cannot bring in electronic devices such as cellphones to the polls.
The League recommends doing research and writing down notes on a piece of paper to bring with you inside the polling locations.
Who are election judges or poll workers?
Election judges are selected in a process run by each county, which includes all of the political parties involved.
In partisan primaries, elections are run in conjunction with Democrats and Republicans. They select who will be on the ballot.
People can sign up to be poll workers by checking with their respective county election administrators.
“It’s a great way to participate in our democracy,” said Labowitz, with the ACLU-TX. “There’s lots of different roles that you can play as an election worker.”
Other Election Resources
- Vote411.org -- Created by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters
- 1-866-OUR-VOTE -- staffed by several organizations dedicated to nonpartisan election protection efforts.