With Texas’ runoff elections set to happen in the middle of a pandemic this summer, many voters are asking: Do I have to go to the polls to cast a ballot?
The short answer is that it’s still up in the air for many. An ongoing legal fight is being waged on multiple fronts over whether the novel coronavirus means more people should be eligible to vote by mail in Texas this year.
In the federal courts, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery granted a preliminary injunction that said anyone in Texas who wants to vote by mail to avoid transmission of the virus could qualify for a mail-in ballot. However, less than a day later, a panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily stopped his ruling from taking effect.
A separate but similar case is pending at the Texas Supreme Court, meaning that it’s unclear whether Texas will expand who is eligible to vote by mail during the pandemic, as other states have.
As of Wednesday, the state’s traditional rules remained in place. But the courts could still force the state to expand. And the Texans who normally qualify to vote by mail can still do so in July regardless of any decisions by the courts. Here’s a look at how voting by mail works in Texas and the ongoing legal fight.
How do I qualify to vote by mail in Texas?
According to Five Thirty Eight, 29 states allow any registered voter to request a ballot by mail, and five states conduct all elections via mail. In multiple states that do not regularly allow all voters to vote by mail, state officials have recently expanded voting by mail due to the pandemic or allowed voters to use the coronavirus as a reason to vote by mail during the upcoming elections. Texas isn’t one of them.
A registered voter can request a ballot to fill out at home and then mail in if they meet a narrow set of qualifications. Voters can apply if they are 65 years or older, have a disability or an illness, or are confined in jail, according to the Texas secretary of state's office. Voters who will not be in the county where they registered on the election day and during the entire early voting period can also request a ballot by mail.