Eligible to Vote by Mail? Make a Plan!
Do you want to avoid voting in person if possible? Perhaps you are not afraid for yourself, but you suspect that the COVID precautions and record turnout will slow things down. You don’t want to wait for hours and contribute to other people’s waiting time. You also know that Hays County is expecting a record number of mail ballots this fall. Like good citizens everywhere, you are concerned about what is happening to the United States Post Office and how it might affect voting by mail. Now that we have all that established, it is time to act. Review the following steps to vote by mail and get going on steps 1 through 3 right away.
Step 1: Check your voter registration
Do this even if you plan to vote in person. Go to the Secretary of State’s Am I Registered? form by clicking here. Verify that your Voter Status is ACTIVE.
Make sure that your voting address is correct, and click “Change your Address” if it is not. Your address will determine which down-ballot positions you get to vote on. If you change your address after October 3rd, it will not take effect for this election. You can still vote, but you will have to use the ballot from your old address.
If this tool does not show that you have an active registration (and you are sure you registered), contact the Hays County Elections Office at elections [at] co.hays.tx.us or 512-393-7310.
If you plan to vote in person, check this again before you go to vote. The lists will not be purged between now and the election, but mistakes could happen.
Step 2: Decide if you are eligible
Here are the easy criteria. You may vote by mail if you:
- are age 65 or over on Election Day (November 3rd);
- are confined in jail (unless serving a sentence for a felony conviction); or
- will be outside of Hays County during Early Voting AND Election Day.
Here is a controversial fourth one, as stated in the Texas Election Code (emphasis added):
A qualified voter is eligible for early voting by mail if the voter has a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter's health.
Are you under 65 but have a physical condition that puts you at high risk from some aspect of in-person voting? It’s your decision. You do not need to provide any sort of additional information – in fact, there is no place for it on the application. The Texas Civil Rights Project has an excellent discussion of this issue. See it by clicking here.
Step 3: Apply for a mail ballot
Do you currently reside outside of the United States? This section does not apply to you. You need a “Federal Post Card Application," which can be found here.
The Elections Office will start sending mail ballots out on September 18th. We won’t even tell you what the deadline to apply is – apply now and you won’t have to worry about Post Office delays.
(OK, the deadline is October 24th. Your application has to be received by then. You are really taking a chance if you wait anywhere near that long.)
How to get an application:
You can pick up an application at the Wimberley Village Library. You can also download the form from the Elections Office website by clicking here. (You can also email them elections [at] co.hays.tx.us or call them (512) 393-7310 to have a copy sent to you.)
The application form is pretty straightforward, but there are a few potential pitfalls.
The mailing address you provide must match the mailing address in your voter registration file UNLESS you can check one of the exceptions in section 7 of the application. Not sure if your voter registration’s mailing address is up to date? Check your most recent voter registration card. Contact the Elections Office if you can't find your card.
Since this will be the last election of the year, check "November Election" in section 6. If you check "Annual Application," it might affect when you will be able to verify that your ballot was processed (see Step 5 below).
Going on vacation soon? Think twice before submitting a temporary change of address to the Post Office. Mail ballots will not be forwarded.
Will you be out of the county for the entire voting period? If you check “absence from the county” on your application, the Elections Office cannot mail the ballot to an in-county address. If you will not able to receive mail at your out-of-county address in a timely fashion, you have a problem.
If you are over 65 and have plenty of time before you leave, use that option and get the ballot mailed to your Hays County home. Otherwise, the Elections Office suggests that you have it mailed to an out-of-county relative. This is a well-known problem in the Texas Elections Code. It is frequently brought up to the Legislature, but they haven’t fixed it yet.
Still have questions? Contact the Elections Office at elections [at] co.hays.tx.us or 512-393-7310.
We suggest you make a copy of your application. If there is an issue, it might be helpful to know exactly how it was filled out.
Don’t forget the postage on the application (55 cents, or one Forever stamp). You have to mail or hand-deliver this form even if you have already faxed or emailed it. And since you are doing this right away, there is no reason to use fax or email, right?
If your application is rejected, the County is obliged to “deliver written notice of the reason for the rejection to the applicant at both the residence address and mailing address on the application” (per the Texas Election Code).
Step 4: Fill out and return your ballot
Do this as soon as you are ready. If you want to wait and learn more about the candidates (using Vote411.org or attending a virtual forum – see info above), keep your ballot somewhere safe but where you see it from time to time. But don’t wait too long! Avoid the Post Office crunch and give the Elections Office the maximum amount of time to process your vote. The first processing steps begin on October 14th – try to get your ballot in by then.
The most common reason for rejected ballots is failure to sign the back in the proper place. Your signature must cross over the edge of the flap.
We suggest you make a copy of the mailing envelope. If there is an issue, it might be helpful to know exactly how it was filled out. We don’t see any reason to copy the ballot itself.
The ballot is bigger than a letter, but the postage is still 55 cents, or one Forever stamp. If for some reason the postage requirement would stop you from voting and you can’t deliver your ballot in person, drop it in the mail anyway. In the past, the Post Office has delivered ballots without postage. But don’t rely on this unless you are truly desperate.
You can return your ballot in person at the Elections Office in the Hays County Government Center [directions]. You must return your own ballot (and no others), and you will have to present identification. There are no plans for other drop-off locations in Hays County.
Step 5: Check that your ballot was processed
The Elections Office posts a “mail ballot received” spreadsheet every day during the voting period and a final one a few days after Election Day. If you checked "November Election" on your application, you should show up in the first spreadsheet after your mail ballot is received; otherwise, you might not appear until the final posting.
If you checked "Annual Application" or did not check any box at all in that section, you are considered an annual applicant. If you are an annual applicant and you did not vote by mail in this year's primary, you might not appear in the "mail ballot received" file until sometime after the polls close on Election Day. I don't know what the rationale is, but that's the law.
Confused by the Annual Application rules? Don’t know how to find and search the “mail ballots received” file? Email the Elections Office, elections [at] co.hays.tx.us, for help.
Congratulations for making it all the way to the end of this message.
Now get busy and vote!