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How to Vote in Texas' 2020 Election: What You Need to Know

En español | Vietnamese language version | Texas lawmakers haven't changed much about how the state will conduct its general election amid the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3, and polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The state's voter information portal has more information about where to cast your ballot. Your polling place may be different this year, so check before you leave.
  • Be prepared for potentially long lines, and remember to take your mask and to follow social distancing measures at the polls. You'll also need to bring an acceptable form of identification.
  • With Election Day only days away, consider taking your completed absentee ballot to a secure drop box location. Your county's voter registrar's office has more information about where to take your ballot.
  • Gov. Abbott in October issued an order that limits each county to one in-person location for voters to drop off mail-in ballots.
A man walks out of an absentee voting station after voting
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

Here's what else you need to know:

How do I register to vote?

Texans can register to vote by mail or in person. The secretary of state's website has an online voter registration portal that lets you fill out, print out and mail in your application. You can also pick up an application from your county's voter registrar or request that the registrar send you a postage-paid registration package in the mail. Libraries, high schools and government offices in Texas should also have registration forms available to mail in.

Or you can register in person at your county's voter registrar's office. Applications must be mailed to or dropped at your county's voter registrar's office. For all of these options, the deadline to register for the November general election is Oct. 5. You can use the secretary of state's website to check if you're already registered.

How can I get an absentee ballot? Are there important deadlines?

Absentee ballots (or mail-in ballots) are only available to voters who meet certain criteria: Those who are 65 or older, are disabled or will be out of their home county on Election Day and during the early voting period. Incarcerated Texans who are otherwise eligible to vote also qualify.

Request an application for an absentee ballot by printing and filling out a form from the secretary of state's website. It must be sent to your county's early voting clerk, who is either the county clerk or the elections administrator in your area, depending on where you live. Contact information for those officials are on the secretary of state's website. You can also request that an absentee ballot application be mailed to you through the secretary of state's website.

Note that a witness signature is only required on your absentee ballot application only if you have a physical disability that prevents you from signing your name.

To obtain a ballot for the November general election, your early voting clerk must receive your application by Oct. 23. Once you receive your ballot, it must be returned to your early voting clerk by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3. If your ballot is postmarked by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3, it can arrive on Nov. 4 and still be counted.

How do I know my absentee ballot is secure?

State officials say each county employs its own security measures. These include absentee ballot envelopes with bar codes linked to the postal service that enable voters and election officials to track them from drop-off to processing at the local administrator’s office.

When is Election Day? When are polls open?

Tuesday, Nov. 3. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Rules for where voters can cast their ballots vary by county; use the state's voter portal to see where you can vote in person. The portal will have poll location information starting two days before Election Day. In some counties, you can vote at any polling location within the county. In other counties, you can vote only at the precinct to which you are assigned.

Can I vote before Election Day?

Yes, early voting runs from Oct. 13 to Oct. 30. Registered voters can cast their ballot at any early voting location in their county. Check the state's online voter portal on or after Oct. 11 to find out where you can cast your ballot.

What form of identification do I need to vote?

Voters will need to present one of seven acceptable forms of identification to cast their ballot: a Texas driver's license, an election identification certificate, a Texas personal identification card, a state handgun license, a U.S. military identification card, a U.S. citizenship certificate or a U.S. passport book or card.

If you don't have any of these forms of identification, you can fill out a declaration at the polls explaining your situation. You'll be required to present a voter registration certificate, bank statement or paycheck to identify yourself. Voters with disabilities can apply for a permanent exemption from presenting identification.

What is being done to make polling places safe from the coronavirus?

The secretary of state has issued an extensive list of health protocols for polling stations and is encouraging Texans to make use of the early voting period. The secretary of state's office has distributed a safety checklist for voters and election officials. In July, Gov. Abbott signed an order requiring people in counties with 20 or more active coronavirus cases to wear face coverings in public.

Will I be able to vote in the same place as I always have?

Not necessarily. Some polling locations may be combined to evenly distribute election officials. Check the state's online voter portal before you head to the polls.

What are the key races in my state?

This story was updated on Nov. 2 with more information about voting in person. Voting rules and procedures may change before Election Day. We’ll update this story if they do, so bookmark this page and check back.

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Frequently asked questions about voting in Texas this fall:

  • What is the difference between absentee voting and mail-in voting
    In Texas, absentee and mail-in voting mean the same thing. See above for eligibility and deadlines.
  • Do I need a witness for my mail-in ballot?
    A witness must sign your mail-in ballot application if the you cannot sign the application yourself. A witness signature is also required if someone helped you complete the application or mailed the application for you. Additionally, a person cannot serve as a witness for multiple mail-in ballot applications in the same year. This does not apply to close family members.
  • How long does it take to receive my mail-in ballot after sending my application?
    It depends on when you send in your application, and it varies by county. Most counties will start sending out ballots around late September or early October.
  • Do I have to apply for a mail-in ballot each election?
    Yes. If you meet the mail-in voting eligibility requirements, then you need to submit a new ballot request application each election.
  • Can I hand deliver my mail-in ballot?
    Yes. You can take your mail-in ballot to your early voting clerk. You will need to show acceptable ID and sign.
  • If I receive a mail-in ballot, can I decide to instead vote in-person instead?
    Yes, you can. Bring your mail-in ballot with you to return it. You may also call the secretary of state’s office and let them know of your in-person voting plan. If you decide to vote in-person but forget to bring your mail-in ballot with you, you may be asked to fill out a provisional ballot.
  • What is a provisional ballot?
    Provisional ballots allow a voter to cast their vote if their name does not appear on the list of registered voters due to an administrative error. You may be asked to fill out a provisional ballot if you forget to bring an acceptable form of ID with you or if you forget to bring your mail-in ballot if you decide to instead vote in-person. After voting with a provisional ballot, you must visit the voter registrar’s office within six calendar days of the election to present your missing documents and ensure your vote is counted.
  • What is the best way to vote if I’m under 65 and concerned about the coronavirus?
    Make a plan now to vote early and in the morning, when polling locations may be less busy. Ensure you are taking the recommended precautions like wearing a mask, using hand sanitizer and maintaining physical distancing. Consider bringing a pen or stylus to use when checking in to vote and for marking their ballot. Contact your county election office to determine what type of marking devices are appropriate for your county’s ballots. Voters who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms may consider using curbside voting. For curbside voting questions and eligibility requirements, contact your county’s election office.
  • How do I become a poll worker?
    The specifics of working the polls vary by location, so check with your county’s elections department for details on working Election Day or during early voting. Training is required.
  • Is it mandatory for all elections workers to wear masks?
    While it is not mandated, election workers are strongly encouraged to wear face masks or face shields. Some counties may install plastic guards at the check-in location, and health and safety considerations will be incorporated into poll worker trainings and posted around the polling location.
  • I live in a long-term care facility. Can I vote in-person?
    Yes, you can. You have the right to leave your facility to vote, no matter the lockdown restrictions. You should anticipate quarantining upon your return.

    Facilities should be sharing their voting plans with residents and families now. They may coordinate curbside voting; for example, they could arrange a van to transport residents to the polls and have election workers deliver ballots to the vehicle. Facilities should follow safety precautions like only transporting symptom-free residents, using personal protective equipment and thoroughly disinfecting the vehicle.

    Find a long-term care ombudsman near you online, or call 1-800-252-2412. Ombudsmen can provide specifics about residents’ rights, address concerns and follow up on facility voting plans.
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AARP is urging older Americans to ask the candidates 5 key questions:

  • Just over half of all older Social Security beneficiaries rely on the program for at least 50 percent of their income. If elected, how will you ensure that current and future Social Security benefits are not cut as part of deficit reduction?
  • Half of the people with traditional Medicare spend at least a sixth of their income on health care. If elected, how will you protect Medicare from benefit cuts, as well as lower health care costs and ensure that older adults continue receiving the affordable health care they have earned?
  • COVID-19 has caused death and suffering for too many older Americans who require long-term care. If elected, how will you make sure these citizens can access safe and affordable long-term care at home, as well as in facilities like nursing homes and assisted living?

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